Dear Corporate Newspaper, Paywalls Won’t Work.

June 13, 2010

I have a message for all of the corporate news organizations sitting in their ivory towers behind their mahogany desks:

Quit trying to convince people to pay money for content that you’ve been giving them for free for years! No one who is used to getting the news for free online is going to start giving up their hard earned money to get through a “paywall.” It’s just not going to happen. It would be better for you to simply light your articles of incorporation on fire and watch them burn. At least then we wouldn’t have to keep reading about paywalls and your stockholders wouldn’t have to go through the agony of watching the value of their investments go up in smoke while the rest of Wall Street thrives.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at this excerpt from the Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism’s recent article, “State of the News Media 2010:”

Over all, the evidence suggests the outlook is difficult both for paywalls and for online display advertising. While most people have not been asked to pay for content, even among the most avid news consumers online, only about one in five at this point say they would be willing to pay, and this does not include less voracious news consumers. At the same time, the vast majority of those online, 8 out of 10, say they basically ignore online ads.

It simply will not work to just repurpose your same old content and then try to sell it to me! I’m just not going to buy it, and at least four out of every five avid news readers agree. Is there no one creativity left at the top of the industry?

At least, if you are going to start charging me for news, you need to find a way to actually add some value to it. You simply cannot just start charging more for the same product. People won’t stand for it. For example, look at the cell phone industry. It used to be that using a land line was the only option that people had, and there was a fair market price set on this service. Within a certain range, no one was going to pay more than that price. But then, in comes the cell phone companies who actually found a way to get people to pay more for phone service. They added the value of being able to use a telephone anywhere, even while you’re walking down the street (whether this is a good thing or not, I’ll let you decide). But what the newspaper industry is trying to do right now is akin to simply trying to charge more for the same old home phone service. People simply aren’t going to stand for it!

Here’s a crazy idea on me for all of the geniuses at the big news conglomerates:

You’re all so excited about Apple’s new toy the iPad, and you think that its going to save your business. Unfortunately, on its own, it won’t. However, by striking up a bargain with Apple, you might just be able to learn from what the cell phone people did back in the 90s. Get Apple to give away an iPod for free as long as the customer agrees to pay for a digital news subscription for one or two years. Now if you do that, I might just consider paying for news, but only because you’ve actually added something to the bargain. On top of this you can fill out your revenue by adding in affiliate sales techniques and information marketing. (If you aren’t sure what these are, just hire one of the many new marketing whiz kids who’ve been kicking your butt lately. They should be able to help you out.)

Oh and one last thing, don’t even think about trying to restrict my use of the unit. I know that this is temping, but this is a surefire way to lose customers in the long run.

Think outside the newsstand,
Joe

This post was inspired in part by Greg Sterling’s post over at Screenwerk Titled “Newsday Readers Don’t Pay, They Go Away.” Thanks to Greg for the great ideas!

Photo by Neal Patel

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