Saturday, April 3, 2010

Paying for just the journalism, revisited

I'm a little late to this party, but want to react to Alan Mutter's post from a few days ago (March 30) about non-profit news funding, which drew a lot of (mostly negative) attention. Mark Coddington in this week's Nieman Lab Week in Review examines the controversy and curates a bunch of links to other posts about it.

Most of the debate -- especially in the comments at the end of Mutter's post -- centered on the likelihood and practicality of charitable donations being able to fund journalism to the tune of $4.4 billion a year currently spent on newsrooms. Mutter used that figure based on some calculations by Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute a few months ago.

But one of the comments -- which was made and ignored, garnering no reaction from other commenters -- pointed out that $4.4 billion amounts to $44 each from 100 million households nationwide. From my perspective, an even better way to look at it is that amounts to about $100 a year from each of the 44 million subscribers who currently pay to receive a daily newspaper, a figure remarkably similar to what I calculated and discussed in a post right here a few weeks ago.

It seems as if no one is putting any time or effort into figuring out how to get people who are now paying more than $200 a year for printed newspaper journalism to pay a fraction of that, say roughly half, for comparable online journalism. I'm repeating myself from the earlier post, but I don't think the issue whether paywalls will succeed is lack of willingness to pay for content. If it were, no one would pay for print, either. The real issue is that the weak content and crappy interface of most online news sites isn't worth paying for.

The newspaper industry's moguls should be working on create an online user experience that comes very, very close to reading the newspaper on paper with online delivery of interesting story selection, decent design and good writing. Then they should price it basically to cover just the overhead of paying for the journalists who will produce it. If this were to happen I'm convinced people who are still willing to pay for print would pay for this improved online version -- especially if it were to cost LESS than they were paying for the physical version.

Why is no one talking seriously about this? Develop an interface to the news worth paying for, and people probably will do so.

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