What is the future of online news.
December 19, 2001 12:24 AM   Subscribe

What is the future of online news. Will subscription eventually win through? Is there a viable business model that will allow independent publishers (such as Salon) to survive, or will we see further media consolidation? Where does blogging fit into this spectrum?
posted by RobertLoch (9 comments total)
Gosh, with all these people vowing that e-books can never replace the touch and feel of cotton, er, I mean printed books, why should we believe printed newspapers will go away?

A subscription news site cannot be viable until:
  1. all of its print audience is online.
  2. the Internet is pervasive ("Internet everywhere").
  3. portable Internet terminals become inexpensive and as good as dedicated terminals.
  4. an inexpensive physical medium is secured for self promotion (web sites die by the rule "out of sight, out of mind"). This probably means continuing the print newspaper to support the web site, or mergers between TV stations and newspapers.
posted by fleener at 7:25 AM on December 19, 2001

We must be sure to tell that to the Wall Street Journal.

Sorry, that was catty. I'm sure you mean an online-only subscription news site. Right?
posted by mikel at 7:46 AM on December 19, 2001

Interesting series of articles.

In some ways it seems almost inevitable that online publications will lower their gates and charge for access. I mean, they can't give it away for ever, can they?

On the other hand, the online publication model is completely different from the print one. It makes sense to charge for print publications in part because they don't scale -- each one costs more. But, even with the costs of printing and distributing a physical newspaper or magazine, some are still free: Many alternative weeklies and local newspapers subsist entirely on advertising revenues.

Furthermore, the fact that anyone can reach a website, without placing an order or becoming an official customer or even walking to a newsstand, means that online publications can reach a far wider audience. Also, quality content can be emailed by readers to their friends -- generating massive, free grassroots advertising for the publication itself.

So it seems to me that, given how effectively -- and how cheaply -- free content can reach a wider audience, and that subscriptions have never been a source for real profits (for mainstream news publications) anyway (even WSJ.com makes a negligible amount (I forget the numbers) on any relevant scale), if online content has a future, it is in advertising, which no doubt will become ever more intrusive -- and more effective -- in the next few years.
posted by mattpfeff at 8:18 AM on December 19, 2001

The WSJ has 600,000 subscribers; hardly negligible.

I personally can't see subscription being the lead model ever, apart from for very specialised operations. However, I do see room for added value subscription services.
posted by RobertLoch at 9:27 AM on December 19, 2001

I remember when my girlfriend lost her job and started charging me for what I was used to getting for free. We broke up a couple of months later.
posted by Mack Twain at 9:49 AM on December 19, 2001

Mack, very insightful. I think that you need to forward that story to Dave Talbot at Salon. He may find it useful.
posted by RobertLoch at 9:52 AM on December 19, 2001

Mack Twain, why not combine a subscription news service with a smidgen of what you used to get for free?
posted by daragh at 10:05 AM on December 19, 2001

The WSJ has 600,000 subscribers; hardly negligible.

Agreed. I can't remember where I was reading it, but I not too long ago saw some analysis of how WSJ.com just wasn't big business in the grand scheme of things. But, yeah, I don't have the facts to back that up, except to say that $50 million in revenue (what WSJ.com brings in) isn't all that much, esp. when compared to the NYTimes.com's (claimed) 9 million active registered users.

The Newspaper Association of America also has an interesting piece on how NYTimes Digital is converting its free user base into customers for its premium serivces.

And I did find an interesting piece on the WSJ.com operation in Interactive Week (here's the Google cache since the Google link doesn't work). It notes that WSJ.com isn't profitable right now, because of a $25 million redesign; and Dow Jones makes 5 times as much money off its newswires as it does off WSJ.com.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:54 AM on December 19, 2001

The only thing I'd pay a subscription for would be Metafilter.
posted by catatonic at 2:33 PM on December 19, 2001

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