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Paying for the news in a digital world

Just one-third of Americans read a newspaper anymore. Radio, too, has seen a similar decline. Contrasting those declining trends is the Web. One-third of Americans now get their news from the Web, and that number keeps climbing. Mix in other sources like podcasts, and mobile, and the rate jumps to 44 percent of the population. The last time newspapers saw that level was nearly a decade ago.

The decline itself is not really news. And newspaper publishers, despite popular myths to the contrary, are looking to new ways to make money from news gathering and distribution. And they are looking for new ways, because shutting off the presses is not a solution. (Condé Nast estimated, that 15 years out, print would still account for 70 percent of sales.)

Even in the epic future, when publishers like the New York and London Times shuts of the presses, the savings might only be 25 percent. A paying audience, at the London Times’ current rate, would need to double to maintain the same profit margins.

The New York Times, as it prepares to raise the paywall again, has been doing extensive price-point research with its audience. Participants weave through screen after screen of options, with bundled content offered at various monthly and daily rates.

In time, a market will build for well-reported news, possibly on the Web, possibly via a subscription service powered by Apple or some other mobile platform. But to get from here to there, publishers need to  maintain their bottom lines and transition their loyal audience into a new format.