Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tablet computers and online paid content schemes offer hope for print media

Two developments have given the beleaguered print journalism industry reason for hope. Both involve the potential to sell news articles and features to consumers in digital form.
They are tablet computers, such as the one Apple is poised to announce next week, and website pay walls to access content, such as the New York Times is planning.

Light at the end of the tunnel

After a couple of years of unremittingly bad news, 2010 has offered a ray of hope for the print media.
The New York Times Co. announced Wednesday that it plans to charge for access to NYTimes.com content at the beginning of 2011. It plans to institute a metered business model, which will offer users free access to a set number of articles per month and then charge users once they exceed that number. New York Times home delivery print subscribers will continue to have free access to NYTimes.com.
The Financial Times has a similar metered business model for its online content.
News Corp.’s Wall Street Journal restricts full access to its content to paying subscribers.
Newspaper executives are hoping that news junkies who have abandoned paid newspaper subscriptions will be willing to pay up for digital content.
Another potential bright spot for the news industry is the emergence of e-readers and tablet or slate computers for consuming written content. Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book reader got the ball rolling by offering newspaper and magazine content.
Apple is widely expected to trot out a tablet computer on Jan. 27 that will act as an e-reader, mobile Web browser and more. Apple hopes its tablet will do for newspapers, magazines and books what its iPod did for music. In other words, it wants to revitalize those markets by creating a new business model and a new experience for consuming old media.
Another bit of good news came when Editor & Publisher resumed business this month under new ownership. E&P restarted Jan. 14, just two weeks after Nielsen closed the print and online publication, known as the “bible of the newspaper industry.” The new owner is Duncan McIntosh Co., an Irvine, Calif.-based magazine and newspaper publisher.

Not out of the woods yet

Instituting pay-for-content business models is iffy with online news, however.
People have gotten used to getting news for free online. There are multiple sources of news online, so readers might dump a fee-based site for a free service in a heartbeat.
Also, bloggers and news aggregators might do such a good job summarizing the news on pay sites that readers won’t feel they have to pay up.
Asked what they would do if their favorite news site suddenly began charging, 74% of respondents in a poll by PaidContent and Harris Interactive said they would “find another free site.” Some 8% would use the site’s free headlines only. Just 5% said they would pay to continue reading. The rest weren’t sure what they’d do.
E&P columnist Steve Outing wrote a thought-provoking column on the subject titled “Your News Content Is Worth Zero to Digital Consumers.”
MarketWatch and WSJ.com writer Brett Arends had a pretty gloomy assessment of the industry in his article titled “Will the news survive?” He points out the challenges facing news media firms trying to monetize their online content.
His article included a chart, reproduced by Silicon Alley Insider, showing that newspaper employment has collapsed in the last 15 years, with employment now at the same level it was in the mid-1950s.
More than 15,000 newspaper employees lost their jobs in 2009, according to media industry watcher News Cycle.
At least 142 daily and weekly newspapers shut down in 2009, a nearly threefold increase over the number of titles succumbing in the prior year, according to Alan Mutter at Reflections of a Newsosaur.
More ugly stats: In 2009, 275 new magazines were launched while 428 ceased publication, according to MediaFinder.com.
Here’s to hoping that 2010 will yield some more positive statistics for the news media.

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