“Almost All” Will be Charging for Content?

First of all, the Financial Times is a true gem of a news organization and they have a really smart team of folks working on the digital side. Bottom line, I have a ton of respect for that team. There is much good insight and advice found in this interview however it is obscured by this one soundbite.

The Financial Times editor, Lionel Barber, has predicted that “almost all” news organisations will be charging for online content within a year.

[From Financial Times editor says most news websites will charge within a year | Media | guardian.co.uk]

Barber goes on to say that the big impediment is a payment mechanism (he didn’t say a micropayment system but that is pretty much what he is referring to). Sorry, the problem isn’t that people can’t pay by the article but rather that they have not demonstrated any interest or intent in a pay by the article scheme. I might do it for financial news but it’s a big maybe because it’s more likely that I’ll step up to a subscription and there simply isn’t a lot of elasticity in subscription rates and when the advertising component continue to suck wind there is little good news in the financial pictures these groups can expect.

Insofar as “almost all” news organizations doing it… well that only works if indeed almost all do it and do it pretty much in a coordinated fashion otherwise it’s a classic prisoner’s dilemma game. Why would one news group turn on a payment scheme when a competitor featuring the same content could continue offering it for free?

The odds of all the major news organizations coordinating such a move is nil because we all know these guys couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery, at least not so when it comes to monetizing their digital experience. Something has to change in online news but a pay by the article scheme simply isn’t the answer that will bring relief to a battered industry.

Breaking all the Rules

Drudge Report is a site that can only be described as the exception that proves the rules we are supposed to live by, it’s a crappy looking site (sharing the worst looking website honor with Craigslist) that predominately links to other peoples content and it has never changed. Run by a couple of guys at most, the site is essentially Matt Drudge.

Traffic is over 700 million page views a month but because of the aggressive reloading I am not sure how reliable that number is but it’s generally considered accurate that the site gets at least 5 million unique visitors a month. At any rate, the ability to generate an enormous traffic surge to a linked item is the stuff of legend.

What does all this prove, not much I suppose other than you find success in interesting places and not always according to the script we are given. Drudge works because the site has enormous utility and site visitors are willing to overlook the visual issues for what counts, the content (or in this case the links to content). News aggregation is still a huge business, it would be a mistake for anyone to suggest that this segment of media is blown up as a result of changing behaviors due to social networks and their ilk.

Then there is Drudge on Twitter… as you can see from the screenshot, Drudge is not exactly into conversation… breaking more rules.

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