As this critical TechCrunch post reports, the American Press Institute has created a plan to save newspapers through a paid-content model. Techcrunch’s slant might be amusingly derogatory, but there is a very serious issue to solve here, and very few are articulating clearly what are the potential options. Certainly, this “plan” seems to be founded on too many false or outdated assumptions to be a forward-looking guide.
I will briefly look at the main “Doctrines” that are proposed, but firstly its worth commenting on the premise of the entire report – that paid content works and that content must be monetised more effectively so that newspapers can survive. The major flaw with this, and it has proved a stumbling block for most newspapers (and indeed record labels in the music industry), is that it is not the content that must be monetised, but the audience. Yes, quality news content costs a large (but decreasing) amount to create, but it is often a treated by the public as a commodity. The audience, and the experience in which the audience consumes that content are the vital factors. If newspapers started thinking about monetising their audience and experience, rather than charging for content, the solutions would be more straight-forward.
The True Value Doctrine – Establish the true value of news content online by charging for it.
I agree that publishers shot themselves in the foot by giving too much away for free in the beginning. But, when every other type of publisher is now distributing online for free, newspapers must be exceedingly confident in the quality of their own content to attract paying customers, and be willing to cut themselves out of the free content markeplace and Google-based link economy. The hybrid model that is presented does contain some very valid suggestions.
The Fair-Use Doctrine – Capture revenue from content that travels with rights, and thwart content piracy.
This is a very muddy issue, with the legal definition of “fair use” being under constant debate, as well as the practical implementation and prevention of piracy being extremely difficult. This doctrine suggests that all publishers band together to a) stop people using their content without permission, and b) go to the deep pockets (the advertising networks that serve ads on the pages where the piracy is occuring) to strong-arm money from them. I struggle to believe that advertising networks could really be held liable for the piracy of content, but even so, this agreement would probabaly take years to sign and implement.
The Fair Share Doctrine – Negotiate for more money from Google and other news aggregators.
Great idea in theory, but what happens when Google says “no”, as they surely will? As the plan states, Google makes the same profit as all of the newspapers put together, but thats completely irrelevant. The plan attacks Google for keeping a disproportionate amount of the value from the content it has aggregated, searched, and presented. But that’s business! Google, especially whilst news sites rely on it to deliver 25%-35% of their audience, will just say “no”.
The Digital Deliverance Doctrine – Create an industry-wide news platform that is protected by paywall, and which adapts to new digital devices that deliver content and premium prices.
It all sounds great, except the plan also highlights (and then ignores) the one major flaw. Some publisher, if not a newspaper then a large blog network like the Huffington Post or Gawker (which the plan describes as “online scavengers”) will simply purchase a subscriptions, and then rewrite the news for their own publication – distributed everywhere for free.
The Consumer-Centric Doctrine – Refocus on readers and users
I totally agree with this point. As it is succintly suggested, the “greater value might be realised from selling content to consumers in micropayments, but from selling consumers’ rich micro data to advertisers.” I am looking forward to getting idio’s personalized publishing platform live with our first newspaper partner, so we can prove the incredible value of the data that is created.
So all-in-all, the plan does a great job of painting the picture, and explaining the problems facing the industry. However, the plan has been clearly written with the paid-content model in mind, and with this as a pre-assumed solution, many of the doctrines have significant flaws in them.