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For newspapers, the writing is on the (pay) wall.

August 3, 2010

It is rather popular to bash the news media for one reason or another, but I don’t. I actually have a lot of respect for the news media but equally I have to recognize that it is in an industry in crisis.

The challenge the news industry ran into many moons ago was that they gave away all of their content, hoping (I guess) to make money off of advertising. What they ended up doing instead is commoditizing their business.

The latest idea to get out of the crisis is a paywall and getting people to pay for news content. Unfortunately as highlighted here and  elsewhere, it probably won’t work. It is so hard to charge people for something when they are used to getting it for free.

Not that the news isn’t worth paying for, it is just that we’re surrounded by headline news at every turn so why pay for it at one news outlet when you can get it free at a dozen others.

Headline news has become a commodity, pure and simple. Putting up paywalls won’t have people paying for headline news, it’ll just have them looking elsewhere.

Even mainstream OpEd writers are a commodity. Sure, if you’re a big Thomas Friedman fan you can only get his columns on NYTimes.com, but you can always find his ideas in books, videos or clipped and discussed on other blogs. Basically, if you want Friedman, no matter what paywalls may go up, you’ll get Friedman and most likely for free.

Maybe there is some winning combination of micro-payments or something similar that may work for newspapers. I hope so.

But behind all the paywall tricks and traps newspapers may come up with, ultimately they will have to develop some sort of content strategy that will make me want to pay for their content. Headline news is great, OpEds are great… but what else you got?

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