The NYTimes is trying yet again to get readers to pay for their website. Early reactionsdon’t seem too positive. I don’t blame the NYT for trying to make money but I am skeptical this initiative will work and I suspect in a few years they will back down like they did with their previous Times Select plan.
At a broader level I don’t think people will ever pay for content in the way they used to. Fundamentally barriers to entry in the content distribution business have fallen dramatically and there is too much free content out there. Some of that content may disappear behind paywalls but what is left will still be good enough for most readers making life all the more difficult for the paysites.
Other models, perhaps from the non-profit sector, will have to replace the subscription model that is crumbling. A couple of ideas:
a) New technology may have created the problem but it also offers the solution. It allows information to be created and disseminated far more cheaply than before. Outsourcing is one obvious cost-cutting measure. It’s also much easier and cheaper to create photos, audio and video than before. The old silo mentality where a journalists creates one type of content is obsolete. Every journalist should be expected to create multiple types of content for every major story they report: a TV reporter might write a blog post or a print reporter creates a quick web video. Media organizations like the NYTimes are already doing this but they need to scale it up creating a lot more content with their existing workforce. This larger content base can then generate more advertising revenue.
b) Non-profits need to get in the journalism business in a much bigger way especially for high-value content like investigative journalism. The costs of creating and distributing this content have plummeted and they can give it away for free as a way of pushing the issues they care about and raise their own profile. Universities , foundations, thinktanks,unions,political parties between them have enormous resources a tiny fraction of which would fund a lot of journalism from a wide variety of viewpoints. Universities are especially promising since they have a ready supply of expertise and students who can do some of the grunt-work for free.