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Music magazine Paste asked readers to help it out of its money troubles. The print magazine needed $300,000. After ten days it collected $175,000 in reader donations.

Some public broadcasting radio and TV stations raise money through donations. This mainly happens in the US but the idea is starting to take root elsewhere.

Can this model work for print publications?

The answer is, in a way it already does. Print magazines earn revenue from copy and subscription sales. If there’s less advertising, the cover price is higher.

Many publications already carry no advertising, or very little. They make almost all their money from copy or subscription payments.

New Zealand’s Consumer Institute magazine Consumer doesn’t carry advertising. The same applies to Choice in Australia and similar titles elsewhere in the world.

This means the magazine’s readers know its articles are written without any pressure from advertisers.

It can a good business model for publishers. Subscription revenue is a more reliable income source than advertising. Better still from the publisher point of view, you get it before paying for publishing costs. Advertisers often pay a long time after a magazine goes to print.  I think we’ll see more subscription-driven print titles in the future. And more titles that rely on reader donations.

Readers can donate to this site through my PressPatron account using the button below:

Write mainly with nouns and verbs. Use adjectives only if they make your meaning more precise.

In Daily Mirror Style, Keith Waterhouse describes the old school journalist’s view. He says:

Adjectives should not be allowed in newspapers unless they have something to say.

Writers think adjectives add colour to their words. They do. But colourful writing isn’t always easier to understand. In volume one of Editing and Writing, another newspaper journalist Harold Evans says they give writing a superficial glitter.

He goes on to say:

Every adjective should be examined to see: is it needed to define the subject or is it there for emphasis?

Evans says “over-emphasis destroys credibility”.

Adjectives for emphasis

Take care when using them for emphasis. For example, the word ‘very’ adds nothing to a phrase. Most of the time you can lose the word without changing the meaning. The same usually applies to words like really, actually, rather and quite.

Often there’s a better, more elegant way of expressing the same idea. “The train crawled into the station” is better than saying it was “very slow”.

In practice many adjectives have no substance. You can remove most from your sentences. You won’t lose much, but you will gain clarity.

On a personal note, publishers and others have paid me for years to write by the word. Loading my copy with lucrative filler words including adjectives makes economic sense – but my writing would certainly better without them.

For the record:

Nouns name people, places, things and ideas.

Verbs are doing words. They tell you what is going on. We say

Adjectives modify nouns. They tell you what kind it is, how many there are and which one is being talked about.

Adverbs do the same job for verbs.

Sometimes it’s hard to grasp the difference between marketing and sales. This is particularly true in a small business where the same people may wear both hats.

In a nutshell, marketing comes first. It is the way you present yourself and your products to potential customers. Sales is the next step where you move from presenting to connecting.

Know your target market

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth taking time to discover exactly who your potential customers are. If you can’t define your market in clear and concise terms then part of your marketing effort will be wasted. You can’t expect to hit a bullseye if you don’t know which target you’re aiming at.

One of the most common mistakes a business can make is assuming they can sell their product or service to everyone. This is rarely true. Even the simplest and most straightforward looking businesses only appeal to a limited sub-section of the population.

Marketing

Suppose, for example, you run a furniture business and you want to sell online. Are you at the high end of the market where people are looking for high quality, handcrafted antiques of the future or are you selling low-cost mass produced furniture?

If you’re operating at the higher level your marketing will need to reach the small, but mainly wealthy, group of traditionalists who appreciate excellence and have the money to afford it. If you’re aiming down market you’ll need to reach young families with lower incomes.

These two groups are likely to have different needs and motivations. They are also likely to use the Internet (if they use it at all) in dramatically different ways.

There’s debate in publishing circles about whether consumers will pay for online content. Rupert Murdoch recently moved from the free content camp to thinking out loud about charging readers micropayments to view news.

Now Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal says it will press ahead with a micropayment scheme as well as more conventional subscriptions.

Reuters columnist Eric Auchard looks at possible newspaper business models for The Guardian in Pay a small toll to read this news story.  He concludes; “the newspaper industry must find a way to make work one or several of these proposals to make consumers pay for online news. The alternative is to accept that newspapers have had their day.”

Why micropayments?

In theory the subscription model should be perfect for delivering digital content. Yet only a handful of businesses have succeeded in persuading consumers to pay an upfront fee for pure online content – the best-known examples are the adult sites.

There have been famous failures to attract subscription revenue. Slate magazine started out free, then attempted to move to the subscription model. Less than 5% of readers were willing to pay even a modest fee to read the magazine. It has since returned to the ad-supported free online newspaper business model. This five percent figure crops up a lot in the context of online subscriptions, but few publishers have ever reached such giddy heights.

Buy print subscription, get digital free

There are interesting variations on the subscription theme, such as The Economist a British weekly newspaper-magazine has an excellent website. At first only subscribers to the print edition had full access to the entire site. Today, The Economist also offedigital-only only subscription, it’s about 20 percent of the price of a print subscription. The New Scientist has similar offers.

Another variation is where Internet users can trade their personal information for a subscription. The New York Times allows access to a basic set of pages, but for full access you have to fill out a questionnaire. Fairfax Media’s Stuff site in New Zealand allows registered users to customise pages and news feeds. Fairfax’s Australian sites let registered users take part in competitions and receive custom alerts. In some cases the data from these schemes is used for simple information gathering, in other cases once you’ve signed up you’ll see a never-ending stream of spam.

One reason why many content publishers haven’t yet managed to sell subscriptions is that online payment is still based on credit cards. Although many companies have attempted to introduce micropayment systems, none have taken off. Credit card transactions are simply not economically viable below, say, $10.

Rocky road to micropayments

Although as a journalist and ex-publisher I’d love to find ways of turning my skills into a reliable income once more, I see three big problems with getting readers to pay for online content.

First, for readers to pay money, content has to be valuable and consistently good. The Economist and the New Scientist offer consistently good reading and are reliable, credible information sources.

The same cannot be said for all newspapers. The most popular news stories online tend to be trashy tabloid pieces about celebrities – often hinting at sex or with vaguely sexy pictures. These drag in the punters for online advertising, but few people would pay money for this material.

Micropayments send price signals

Second, micropayment schemes would send price signals to journalists. While an economist would argue this is a good thing, it may kill the news business. Newspapers earn their credibility with their markets by the breadth, depth and independence of their coverage. If the easy micropayment dollars all accrue to the trash stories, then quality journalism will be quickly eliminated or relegated to backwaters.

Micropayments will give newspaper managers instant financial feedback on the profitability of stories, genres, beats and individual journalists. Journalist will quickly learn to write for salability. Tech Dirt has an interesting perspective on this in Wait… Wouldn’t Micropayments Be Bad For Journalism?

Third, readers may need to set up multiple accounts with multiple publishers. It may be helpful if there was an iTunes style clearing house for online news, but I can’t see a realistic way this could be made to work.

Lastly, the idea of charging readers to access news adds considerable friction to the process. Stories behind pay content walls become invisible to search engines. The mere process of a reader stopping and thinking ‘do I have enough credit?’ or ‘is this worth paying for?’ will erode numbers. Regardless of their willingness to pay, the frictionless, free content sites will win the traffic everyday.

The active voice is often better than the passive voice because it is direct. This makes it easier to understand and unambiguous.

With the active voice a subject does something to an object: Andy kicked the ball.

In the passive voice the object is acted on by the subject: The ball was kicked by Andy.

An active voice makes for tighter writing and easier reading. It is more personal and less formal.

Efficient writing

The passive sentence used six words while the active sentence needed only four. It also has simpler grammar. Active sentences are economic and clear.

Active voice phrases are easier to understand because they involve fewer stages. Think of it as fewer mental hoops to jump through. This becomes important in more complex sentences and longer pieces of text.

While active voice sentences are also easier to write, you might not always find this in practice. The good news is that writing active sentences helps organise your own thoughts. That way you’ll write clearer.

Confident words

Sentences written in the active voice read as if the writer is confident about the facts. In contrast, phrases and sentences written in the passive voice seem tentative or uncertain.

Bureaucrats and corporate managers often like hiding behind the passive voice’s ambiguities.

For example, in the phrase; “the claims have been analysed”, it isn’t clear who did the analysis. On the other hand; “We analysed the claims” is definite.

Things get worse when the writer resorts to using the word ‘it’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘we’:

In the sentence “It was decided no claims would be payable” the author is deliberately hiding behind the ‘it’ implying that authority comes from on high and not identifying the person who did the deciding.

There are times when you need to use the passive voice. We’ll look at them in another post.