Skip

Another brick in the paywall
January 10, 2012 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Newspapers have two principal sources of revenue, readers and advertisers, and they can operate at mass or niche scale for each of those groups. A metro-area daily paper is a mass product for customers (many readers buy the paper) and for advertisers (many readers see their ads.) Newsletters and small-circulation magazines, by contrast, serve niche readers, and therefore niche advertisers — Fire Chief, Mother Earth News. (Some newsletters get by with no advertising at all, as with Cooks’ Illustrated, where part of what the user pays for is freedom from ads, or rather freedom from a publisher beholden to advertisers.) Paywalls were an attempt to preserve the old mass+mass model after a transition to digital distribution. With so few readers willing to pay, and therefore so few readers to advertise to, paywalls instead turned newspapers into a niche+niche business. What the article threshold creates is an odd hybrid — a mass market for advertising, but a niche market for users. Clay Shirky on the economics of newspaper paywalls and why article thresholds seem to be the way of the future.
posted by storybored (15 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
"It’s too early to know what behaviors the newly core users will reward or demand from their papers. They may start asking to see fewer or less intrusive ads than non-paying readers do."

Ha! The NYT should just copy mefi....
posted by tarheelcoxn at 7:40 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this something I'd need to not have adblock installed to understand?

BTW if you want to get around the payfence, the easiest way to do now is with Chrome. Just right-click a link and do 'open in new incognito window' That starts a new window with no cookies prior cookies, and you can read up to the limit. Hit the limit, just close any open incognito windows and the cookies will reset.

Ironically, I don't use chrome much overall, so I never bothered to install adblock. So I do end up seeing their ads. They're not that bad, most of the time.
posted by delmoi at 7:50 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't necessarily disagree with the article. I do, however, think it doesn't properly account for how the corporate culture works and how adverse to change a lot of these companies can be. Paying readers can ask to see less ads, but that's not going to happen. Newspapers are slow-moving businesses, and they often don't recognize trends until they've passed by. When a newspaper sells ads, they don't sell specific positions (unless they are having a drive to do so at a given time.) What they sell is reach - "We reach X% of households in this market area" - and they go from there to determine what they can sell to a customer. Sometimes it's print. sometimes it's online only. Often, it's a mix. If you allow paying readers to shut off ads, that dilutes the reach you've been selling. Web-savvy readers will just get around this with AdBlock. There are also ways around article thresholds.

Selling the news as your primary product may work sometime in the future, but we're a ways off from that. What newspapers sell right now is advertising (circulation makes up only a small bit of the revenue stream.) Getting them to move away from an advertising first format will take a visionary with a solid plan.
posted by azpenguin at 7:57 PM on January 10, 2012


Because thresholds worked so well for the NYTimes.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:57 PM on January 10, 2012


The NY Times reported 324,000 digital subscribers plus 800,000 linked accounts from daily print edition subscribers at the end of q3. Circulation revenues rose as well after declining for a while.
posted by humanfont at 8:37 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The New York Times seems to now be in the same business as spammers in their online sub. The only people they collect money from are the very stupid.

Obviously there is money to be made doing that, but cost and benefit looks dismal.

The Matt Howie model is the way to go. Give internet pirates all they want forever for a five (fuck make it fifteen) dollar sign up fee and make a small quality product and keep some dignity.
posted by bukvich at 9:18 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't it a bit disingenuous to use Cook's Illustrated, a six-issue-a-year magazine, as an example of how publications get by without advertising, when writing an article about daily publications and their subscription model?
posted by hippybear at 9:35 PM on January 10, 2012


> Give internet pirates all they want forever for a five (fuck make it fifteen) dollar sign up fee and make a small quality product and keep some dignity.

That works for Metafilter only because Metafilter doesn't generate the content so they can get by with a tiny staff.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:36 PM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has implemented a 15-article/month threshold as of Jan. 1. Digital subscriptions are available for $4-ish/month.

I worry about my local paper, though. It serves an area slightly larger than our county, and has followed a "local matters" strategy the last few years, limiting how much space it gives wire news, and eliminating its state capital bureau among other specialty reporting. The handful of journalists remaining on staff are stretched thin. They claim to be doing OK, though. The online version probably gets a lot of "sticky" traffic due to the article comments, which although contentious, are heavily moderated and therefore only gratingly obnoxious at their worst, instead of an offense against the human spirit as found many other places. I don't know how they'd manage if they couldn't keep the print edition as a moneymaker, though.
posted by dhartung at 11:15 PM on January 10, 2012


The problem with the mefi model is we produce the content. Professional reporters cost money. And even mefi has the signup fee as a roadbump to trolls and spammers, the real money is adverts on drive by readers of ask mefi iirc.

Though maybe that's another model. Have reporters write stories, then have all have comment sections, but with a signup fee to comment and moderators. Drive up more thoughtful comments on articles, put extra adverts for non signed up users. Maybe even have newspaper staff/reporters comment along with users, make an article more interactive with the people behind it rather than just something static, with interesting discussions happening on the places that link to it.

The biggest problem newspapers have though is craigslist. Losing their classified ad dominance has murdered a big chunk of revenue.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:02 AM on January 11, 2012


Matt doesn't pay the rest of you guys? Huh?
posted by ryanrs at 12:40 AM on January 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The New York Times seems to now be in the same business as spammers in their online sub. The only people they collect money from are the very stupid.

Does the same rule apply retail shops with limited security.
posted by humanfont at 3:51 AM on January 11, 2012


Professional reporters cost money.

I'd like to see behind the curtain at Talking Points Memo which somehow affords to pay for original reporting and exists only as web site without a paywall.

I suspect that everyone at TPM contributes to the product directly, or pretty directly. I suspect, also, that at the NYT there are fleets of executives and managers who don't do very much.

I have very little sympathy for the newspaper business. The internet as we know it today is about 15 years old. Craigslist is just about as old. For a decade and a half the newspaper industry looked at their free competition and just assumed everyone would continue paying for classifieds and getting a daily paper out of some sense of duty.
posted by device55 at 6:44 AM on January 11, 2012


Isn't it a bit disingenuous to use Cook's Illustrated, a six-issue-a-year magazine, as an example of how publications get by without advertising, when writing an article about daily publications and their subscription model?

Consumer Reports uses the same model and it's monthly. It also has a circulation 7 times that of Cook's Illustrated. I don't think it would be impossible to run a subscription-supported newspaper. The Economist (admittedly a weekly but it considers itself a newspaper) could probably do it.

It's kind of shocking how few magazines seem to take the ad-free model, assuming this Wikipedia category is remotely comprehensive. CR, CI, Adbusters, Ms., and Highlights for Children are the only significant ones on the list.
posted by jedicus at 8:55 AM on January 11, 2012


It's kind of shocking how few magazines seem to take the ad-free model

In most of the magazines I read, the ads are often much more interesting than the editorial content. Certainly more thought goes into producing them.

I enjoy ads in printed media much more than online; online they seem much more like irritating clutter (even though the editorial material is usually below even the low par of the print side.)
posted by chavenet at 10:28 AM on January 11, 2012


« Older Dang, sun!   |   Vintage Ebony Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post