Archive for the ‘Free’ Category

h1

A study of media paywalls

February 18, 2010

This is a great piece of work by Alastair Bruce, content manager for MSN UK, showing how 30 online providers are charging (or not) for their content.

In short, freemium is the most popular model, full subscription the least popular.  Micropayments are being used, but not much.

Prediction?  Watch the increased use of micropayments as part of a freemium service.  And also, watch as some providers stubbornly refuse to charge for content, seeking alternative ways to remain financially sustainable (for example, The Guardian, which is experimenting with all sorts of approaches at present, such as providing its content via an API).

Charging for content

View more presentations from Alastair Bruce.

(hat tip Journalism.co.uk)

h1

People WILL pay for online content, research finds

February 15, 2010

Dropping circulations

A new report from Nielsen (FT article – subscription required) suggests a third of people around the world (in 52 countries) would be happy to pay for online content.

While this will please many in the newspaper business (notably Rupert Murdoch, who is introducing paywalls for some of News Corporation’s papers this year), the research findings are not quite the equivalent of a reprieve for struggling newspapers.

The bottom line for newspapers is how much they can earn against their operating costs.  The margins once enjoyed by papers have been eaten up by plummeting circulations, reducing the revenues they generate from both sales and advertising.  This has been exacerbated by people moving online to read their news (and the associated loss of loyalty it is presumed this entails).

Online advertising just doesn’t generate revenues in the way it traditionally did offline, and even online advertising sales have been dropping (these Newspaper Association of America figures make depressing reading if you are in the newspaper industry, and highlight how newspapers online are competing with specialist sites like Craigslist or Gumtree for classified advertising).

So making people pay for newspaper content online is seen by many as the solution (notably not by Alan Rusbridger at The Guardian).  As readers of this blog know, I believe this is the solution.  Either way, the question that has yet to be answered is this: even if a third of people say they are happy to pay for online content, will the revenue this could potentially generate cover the costs of running a newspaper? 

It comes down to a balance between the price newspapers can charge, and the number of subscribers (or people paying micropayments for articles) they keep.

And we will find out whether a profitable balance can be struck later this year, first when News Corp erects its paywalls, and second, when the rest of the newspaper industry decides whether to follow suit.

h1

Harding calls ‘the trickery and fakery’ of circulation figures

November 18, 2009

James Harding, Editor of The Times

Finally someone has said it.

The editor of The Times, James Harding, yesterday stated that circulation is not the be-all-and-end-all of online newspapers. And he went on to outline a number of ways he can add value for loyal (and presumably, paying) customers.

“We think it’s good for us and good for business to stop encouraging the trickery and fakery of the ABCs. We want real sales to real customers – that’s what our advertisers want too.”

The Murdoch show – followed closely here – rumbles on.

h1

Blogging could disappear as quickly as it has risen

November 18, 2009

 

Poll from PR Week: the PR industry should not trample all over social media

When something comes along and breathes life into a staid industry, but has not had time to establish deep roots, we should be careful to preserve it.

Blogging has challenged the media. Every week, bloggers rail against sloppy journalism. For perhaps the first time, there is a democratic and immediate response to any weak-minded argument that makes it onto the pages of a newspaper. It’s David and Goliath stuff, and its refreshing.

Nobody knows how the relationship between blogs and media will develop.  So far, it seems bloggers are becoming more skilled and better resourced, potentially challenging journalists. Meanwhile, most journalists I know are being asked to blog as well as write (or, from their perspective, being forced to write more for the same money!).

But the critical difference is that bloggers have not been confined by commercial interests from calling things the way they see them. This is liberating, and is something the mainstream media, with its vested interests, can never hope to compete with entirely.

Which is why its disappointing that it appears blogging is becoming tarnished by a lack of transparency.

In a nice post last weekend, Laurence Borel asked the question – should bloggers be paid to write blog posts? It’s a multi-layered question. Firstly – why not? Good bloggers should be paid, just like good online media should be paid-for.

But the big question is about transparency and the flow of money. The money should flow from the consumers of the blog, rather than from brand owners or companies. Otherwise it reduces blogging to advertising – undisclosed advertising.  This would be no more acceptable than if an ‘expert’ sold you a mortgage without telling you they were paid to sell you that particular one. Transparency is the big issue.

We should value the independence of bloggers. Sadly, the credibility of all bloggers will be damaged if there is a perception that they are taking money from the brand owners and companies they blog about. This is why it’s so important that we don’t allow this practice to take hold.

And why it’s so depressing to see that the majority of PR people in the UK have got this one wrong in a PR Week poll. The emergence of social media presents an enormous opportunity for the communications industry.  There has never been such demand for watertight strategy and precise implementation of complex and increasingly targeted communications campaigns.

The PR industry should be nurturing social media, not trampling all over it. Under pressure from the media on the one hand and encroaching regulatory scrutiny on the other, blogging is fragile enough.  Let the PR industry take a lead in setting out best practice.

h1

The Moir-Gately debate: impact of free comment

October 17, 2009

I have just read about 200 articles, blog posts, tweets and comments about Jan Moir’s sickening article in the Daily Mail on Stephen Gately’s death.

For the record, I didn’t feel much at all about Gately’s death – apart from the tragic fact that someone my age died unexpectedly. So I was surprised, last weekend, when it dominated the BBC News all day Sunday.

It was still dominating on Monday, which surprised me further. But I figured it was merely a case of an establishment figure (you know, friends with Louis Walsh and Elton John – establishment) passing away.

Moir’s article doesn’t deserve comment. It’s just stupid, and I’m sure she knows that. Her logic doesn’t follow at all, but it doesn’t matter because she’s written something to provoke a response, which is her job. Fair enough, no matter how much I think the article itself is horrendous.

But what has interested me (and why I got sucked in and spent an hour reading literally hundreds of posts and comments) is the response.

I started off reading Damian Thompson’s post on the Daily Telegraph blog.  It’s a fairly balanced piece, and makes an interesting comment about the freedom of speech among those living in the ‘social media world’.  His contention is that these ‘liberals’ believe offense is fine if you are ‘liberal’, but should be closed down otherwise.  Freedom of speech, in other words, should not be gifted to people like Moir.

This is a stupid thing to say because what Moir said was not wrong because of her particular viewpoint, it was wrong because she used a false argument to establish a falsehood as a fact.  There is a case for penalising that sort of ‘comment’.  Journalists have a responsibility not to go down that road – the freedom of the press in this country rests on that responsibility.  Her editor should have been the one to throw the book at her.

That Moir’s ‘fact’ was hateful and deeply prejudiced only makes the matter worth doing something about.  Hence the hundreds of complaints.  I would hope that only a small number of these complainants are actually saying ‘nobody has the right to say something I don’t agree with’.

But don’t say ‘gay people are X’ (X could mean sordid, or licentious, or depraved, or evil, or whatever Moir wants it to be) and assert that people who are X (Robbie, Amy, Kate, Whitney, Britney, for example) will die in a bad way.  It is not a logical argument that deserves to be aired and debated.  It is a small-minded error.

So what of Thompson’s point about ‘liberals’ and their attitude to free speech?  The reason I’ve added inverted commas to the word ‘liberal’ is because I want to make a point about Thompson’s use.  I understand the distinction between his use of the word, and it’s real meaning, which is to say something along the lines of ‘broad-minded’.  But it’s a bastardisation, and something popularised by right-wing commentators in America, such as Rush Limbaugh.

The irony is that the comments after Thompson’s post – and hundreds of other comments, posts and tweets I’ve read – are full of precisely the same illiberal (that’s how the word should be used) view that Thompson is rightly criticising.  There are always going to be some people who argue against free speech – it’s nothing to do with being ‘liberal’ or not.

But this brings me circuitously to my main point.  What really interested me was the extremity of many of the views I have read, whether extremely against Moir’s article, or extremely in defence of it.  These extreme views would not have had an airing at any point in our history, but today social media gives them oxygen.

There are religious fanatics and small-minded anti-gays, deeply ‘progressive’ blockheads and anti-capitalists, all happily (or more likely, angrily) making their case on the issue of the day.  And the issue isn’t about poor Stephen Gately at all, it’s about socially important issues – what we are entitled to say in public, how we should live our lives, how concerned we are about the direction of travel of our society.

It is the fact that these views are being expressed for free that makes them poignant.  If your livelihood doesn’t rest on what you say, you can say what you really think.  It makes for a noisy debate, and one that contains some outrageous views.  But it is impossible to argue that – if you read hundreds of those views – it is not balanced.  It just takes a while to find the centre ground.

And so I can say, I have found the centre ground, and here it is: the great British public are sad to see Stephen Gately die, they prefer to judge people based on their character rather than their lifestyle, and they think Jan Moir got this one very, very wrong.

Good for the British people.

h1

Murdoch gives the order to charge

August 7, 2009

Rupert Murdoch has done it.  As suggested at News International’s last quarterly earnings call, he says his online newspaper portfolio will begin migrating towards a paid-for model within the next financial year.

The response has been electric, with no media title able to ignore the story.  As previously acknowledged here, at No Free Lunch, Murdoch is one of the few media moguls large enough to foment industry-wide change towards charging for online newspaper content, though in this instance, he is clearly being ably supported by the Financial Times’ Lionel Barber.

Commentary has varied in tone, from outright skepticism such as Larry Dignan’s analysis at ZDNet to praise from Andrew Keen at the Daily Telegraph.

But could this work?

Murdoch is in a unique position in the media – where he goes, he stands a very real chance that others will follow.  What this means is, while the skeptics are right that charging people for content will drive his audience to rival online sources, they are also missing a key dynamic: if the others start charging too, there will be nowhere to go.

The problem for online newspapers since they began giving away their content free has been the fragmented system online – news just leaks.  But if all – or even just a proportion – of the online newspaper community moves as one, this could work to everyone’s advantage.  As Andrew Keen says:

The holy grail of the digital economy is discovering how to get consumers to spend money on content. Nobody has figured this out yet.

So from now on, watch this space for other newspaper groups to announce ‘trials’, and in the longer term, a raft of lawsuits issued in response to plagiarism.

h1

Lionel Barber: Paid For Content The Future

August 5, 2009

Lionel Barber, editor of the FT, yesterday made the clearest case yet for paid-for online newspaper content.

In an interview with Benjamin Cohen at Channel 4, he made it clear the FT believes its subscription model is the future, although he also cited micropayments as an end-game for newspapers.

He said: “We use a registration model.  It’s a frequency model whereby people taste FT content, and after a certain number of articles, then they register.  After registration comes subscription and we’ve got 117,000 subscribers.”

Content, he said, has value – something that has been forgotten by newspapers over the past decade: “I think there is an inexorable momentum behind charging for content, for the simple reason that, one, the advertising that we once relied upon isn’t going to come back in the same way.  And two, that everybody has simply realised that, in this new internet age, they need to actually charge for content, and establish content as something valuable.”

On micropayments, Barber does not rule out a single system for all newspapers, saying he is looking at “the micropayments issue”.  There will be organisations, he said, that can help newspapers charge per article.  Indeed there are a number of different organisations that offer a wide variety of different electronic, mobile and micropayment platforms, and one of these could be adopted by newspapers en masse.

There is a good round-up of commentary on Barber’s interview at the Fee or Free blog.

If the alternative is content being paid for by the back door, either using an ad-funded model, or even worse, by special interest groups as the Washington Post was found to be doing, then Barber has to be nudging the newspaper industry in the right direction.  What do you think?