Online news publishers hoping to restore profits by installing paywalls have their work cut out.

While publishers who have made the move continue to give off hopeful sounds, it seems paywall strategies aren’t the success they hoped for.

If they were, we’d hear more about it.

And let’s face it, those struggling news publishers currently running free online properties on the smell of an oily rag would all be racing to build their own paywalls if there was clear evidence the strategy makes money.

Let’s look at what’s happening with electronic books and digital music:

Writing at Techdirt, Mike Masnick says book publishers are making a better fist of the transition to digital.

Masnick quotes Rob Reid who writes at The Wall Street Journal there’s little e-book copyright infringement compared to music piracy.  He says while book publishers aren’t great at dealing with the issues, they are doing a better job than the music industry.

Instead of fighting the move to digital, they embraced it and made electronic versions their books available for digital readers from the outset. Music companies resisted MP3 players for years.

So when digital books first hit the market, readers had legitimate ways of buying them from day one.  Most people’s first experience of ebooks would have been through legal, licensed channels and not from pirates. This kept the dollars coming in.

What does this mean for news publishers? There’s no direct lesson, news publishers don’t own stories in the same way music or book publishers own songs or books. And news publishers can’t go back to year zero and train readers to pay for online news content.

Still, it does mean whatever strategy publishers choose, they always will have to compete with free alternatives.

Not Only Can You Compete With Free You Have To If You Dont Want Your Business Overrun By Piracy | Techdirt.

2 thoughts on “Paywall publishers must compete with free

  1. Hey Bill, long time no speak.
    One thing paywall proponents forget to take into account is that news has always been free. It is the gossip that runs through the grapevine, it is the announcements that the king pays the town crier to make, it is the attractor that gets the eyeballs that buy the classified advertising. The relationship between advertising and news was entirely arbitary. It grew out of British newspapers not because there is an inherent relationship between advertising and news but because of a series of historical accidents.
    The news gatherers now are crowdsourcing news and spending billions setting up systems that will buy it for small amounts and sell it for micropayments. None of us know how it will be distributed and by home, but it will certainly need aggregators and sorters and that has always been the role of the editor.
    So, the editorial role will not change but the paymaster will and the delivery vehicle will. We can probably see the next two or three generations of each of these, but after that it is pure speculation.
    I have been writing that paywalls and digital rights management were doomed since the first e-publishing conference in San Fransisco in 1999. The very concept is illogical and the antithesis of the network itself. Now that the mainstream media has finally understood the impact of the new media, they are grasping at the same straws that music publishers and video producers have already gone through. As usual the pornographers are miles ahead. Heaps of free content, constant encouragement to register, peripheral products and services that go beyond the free content that a portion of the audience will buy.
    The phone is clearly the current delivery platform, the rearview mirror, fridge panel, in-spectacle screen will be the next generation. On these small and embedded devices, there are very narrow opportunities for advertising as we now it, but those opportunities are also very deep. They will depend absolutely on location and comprehension of the current activity of the user. They will anticipate the user’s needs and support them in the buying process.
    Again they will not have a direct relationship to the news which they fund, but they will become bound by the user experience in the same way that print media has been.
    I could go on

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