Monday, December 22, 2008

What! Pay for these fine hypertext products??

When I read for the second time in a single week about the fact that free access to newspaper articles on the web might be a model on its way out, one tends to take notice - especially when cost cutting is king. The two possible outcomes to this scenario might result in finding our online forays limited by a subscription based model with article teasers being the only free areas on a newspaper site or that printed newspapers might vanish altogether to be replaced by mediocre web based blog type reporting in which aggregators like Google news may turn out to be the leader..

From the Times today: “Why would I put anything on the Web?” asked Dan Jacobson, the publisher and owner of the newspaper. “I don’t understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are beautiful and cheap full-page ads?” Other publications much larger than TriCityNews have been wondering about pumping resources into a medium that does not seem to show a promise of returns any time soon. And there are signs that the free ride for consumers may be coming to an end. I started getting notices to renew my subscription to The Wall Street Journal and its Web site and waited, as I have in the past, for the deeply discounted offer. It never came. And according to company statements in October, paid subscriptions for The Journal’s Web site were up more than 7 percent from a year ago.

From the Dec 22 issue of the New Yorker. The peculiar fact about the current crisis is that even as big papers have become less profitable they’ve arguably become more popular. The blogosphere, much of which piggybacks on traditional journalism’s content, has magnified the reach of newspapers, and although papers now face far more scrutiny, this is a kind of backhanded compliment to their continued relevance.
Usually, when an industry runs into the kind of trouble that Levitt was talking about, it’s because people are abandoning its products. But people don’t use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more. The difference is that today they don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That’s a consumer’s dream, but eventually it’s going to collide with reality: if newspapers’ profits vanish, so will their product.

Jack Delano, 'Chicago and North Western Railway Company working on a locomotive at the 40th Street railroad shops', Chicago, Ill., 1942. From the Library of Congress archive.

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