I had a great lunch discussion with some co-workers about the fate / future of newspapers and other major content providers on the web. And its hard to know what is going to happen in the coming months as more and more newspapers go under or entirely online. For me, I think the online business model is sustainable at least for newspapers based on the unlimited space for content (and thus ads) as well as the potential to have a much larger audience consume you content than do with the daily rag. Afterall, if the presses stop, will people stop consuming news….especially LOCAL news? Unlikely.
But there does need to be a business model. Currently I see a lot of media sites that obviously are placing pre-roll ads before video content, and even some more obtrusive ads (roadblocks, peel over, etc) instead of traditional banner ads. Many of these also have a ‘skip’ or ‘close’ button on them as well that will allow me to jump right to my content.
So how to make a sustainable business model without undermining the foundation of the web which is content sharing and hyperlinking… I’ve heard arguments about how we need a universal micropayment system, that could deduct cents for each piece of content consumed. That way, the provider gets paid, with no huge price tag for users. But what if I don’t want to pay a nickel to read that article on CNN or my local paper that you just linked to? Will that prevent people from consuming content that may not be in agreement with their existing viewpoints, or will it limit the kind of content that is consumed at all. Would more people only consume PerezHilton instead of the BBC because they are now paying for it and they weren’t before? I think of the amount of content we digest every day, and that could potentially add up to a hefty price tag.
I know I know, content producers need to get paid. But would having to pay on a per-piece basis scare off users, or would it push content producers to create better content, content of value that users would pay for? The underlying problem here, is that we don’t have a micro payment system, and the implementation of something like that is probably wishful thinking for a while. Plus, it undercuts people’s ability to share information across the web and consume whatever content they wish.
At the end of the day, publications and media in general, has been reliant on advertising to stay afloat. And spending on targeted online ads or sponsored content still is growing faster than any other medium out there. But what if larger media outlets all started going freemium.
What I’m about to say is by no means popular, but a system like this may be able to help maintain the integrity of hyperlinks AND create more revenue for content providers.
First, websites could do what they already do – preroll video ads as well as standard banner ads that are intermingled with their own content. But what if whenever someone enters your site from an external page (or I suppose internal) there was a kind of roadblock ad. With no close or skip button. While this is a pain in the ass for users, it does guarantee higher view rates, and possibly more engagement. This would apply to every article on a site.
The downside from a user’s perspective is content no longer becomes ‘free’ I guess. You’re FORCED to pay with your eyeballs and your attention before you get where you want to go. I know it sucks. But it may be part of where things are headed with major news outlets. And this still isn’t blocking anyone for consuming the content, it just may take a bit longer.
But here’s where the ‘mium’ part of ‘freemium’ comes into play. What if there was an option for a subscription based service to each major site, sans login, which would allow you access to all content, video and otherwise, for a small monthly fee with NO ADS. Would reading the NY Times or CNN online, ad free be worth a buck or two per month? If they’re not in print anymore I’d say definitely ‘maybe’.
Open up more possibilities. What if I could purchase these same kinds of content packages ad free in chunks, such as access to ad free content from the top 50 news sites in the world at a discounted rate.
Scale it to TV. What about paying Comedy Central directly for their programming that would let me watch what I want, when I want, on whatever platform I want (TV, iPhone, Laptop, etc). Is that worth $5 a month? For me it is. Bravo to the cats at Boxee for working towards a model of internet TV, even though the channel itself isn’t getting paid cash money for the content.
Again, not popular arguments by any stretch, but the traditional way of doing business on the web is going to change. Not for everyone, but new business models will have to be built, and I’m very curious as to WHO will take the plunge first and what they’re going to using to deliver great content, engage users, and make a profit.
What do YOU all think the online models will be for newspapers and other media outlets? Show some love in the comments and leave your .02.