Not all media dinosaurs have small brains
For an open, organic, freedom-loving Utopia, there are a great many wannabe digital dictators on the Internet, vomiting forth mandates on how we must behave, speak, and do business. The Ethos of the Web, they call it; they know what is right, what is wrong, what will work, and what will fail.
So in May, when Rupert Murdoch tabled the idea of paywalling his newspapers, the Glorious Leaders of Twitterstan took to their keyboards, and registered their disdain with an all-caps “FAIL!”
“You can’t charge for content! Information wants to be free! Show your support by donating to my PayPal account!” Every Social Media Expert and Futurist hustling for speaking fees and fat consultancies knows, unequivocally, that newspapers are dinosuars; one edition short of extinction.
Speaking of which; my 4-year old loves dinosaurs almost as much as she loves punching me square in the balls.
“Raaagh! I’m a dinosaur!”
Putting aside the nauseating pain in my crotchular region, if God hadn’t made dinosaurs disappear 6,000 years ago, they’d still be driving around in their bad-ass dinosaur cars, and we’d be reading comically oversized newspapers. Well, more comically oversized newspapers.
Dinosaurs didn’t die off because they had stupid walnut-sized brains, they disappeared because an asteroid (and God’s divine will, obviously) destroyed damn near everything on the planet. When the smoke cleared, all that was left was leech-filled swamps and a few prehistoric rodents.
Thankfully, we don’t live in a swamp anymore, and most of us aren’t running around in loin cloths. We live in the future! This is the Age of Michael Bay, and thanks to our giant human brains, asteroids couldn’t destroy Dance Your Ass Off, let alone the newspaper business.
But it’s true, paid content can fail—and there have been many, many more failures than successes—but Crikey, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal all continue to thrive behind the wall. Testament to the fact that readers will pay for quality news, with a narrowness of focus, written by informed and connected journalists.
But the masses will buy broad content too, and the existence of Free content doesn’t guarantee the failure of Paid. Apple proved this with the iTunes Music Store in 2003. It was then, as it is now, exceedingly easy to obtain “free” music, but Apple’s solution appealed to a baser human instinct than money; laziness. Apple made it quicker, and easier, to buy content than to get it for free, and without any legal risk.
Of course, even with great content, it’s difficult to overcome what Josh Kopelman refers to as “The Penny Gap”; convincing consumers to go from free to non-free. Especially on the web. So it’s important to look beyond the desktop web experience. To mobile, for instance.
If you travel on the bus or train or tram to work, you’ve seen them; heads down, eyes twitching, fingers stroking. The iPhone and iPod Touch brigade. Reading news, writing email, Tweeting, playing games. iPhone owners spend more time online than making calls.
With the App Store (and Google’s Android Market), current generation smartphone owners have demonstrated that they have no problem purchasing content and applications. According to AdMob, the App Store economy is worth more than US$2.4 billion per year, with owners downloading approximately 10 new applications each month.
Newspapers have already created iPhone applications, such as The Wall Street Journal. In June, PaidContent reported that The Wall Street Journal application had been downloaded 360,000 times in the first three weeks alone.
And now, with in-app purchases in iPhone OS 3.0, newspaper applications such can offer feature content, bundles, or subscriptions via the mobile phone interface.
In the living room, where cable TV viewers have long grown accustomed to paying (ahem) for content, a new generation of internet-enabled televisions have arrived. Manufacturers have added the ability to display Flash content, opening the possibility of premium newspaper content being presented as part of a customer’s existing cable or broadband bundle.
I’ve yet to receive the News Corp. Secret Plan outlining The Murdoch Solution, but if a black, sulfur-scented, wax-sealed envelope arrives, I’ll let you know. Until then, we can only guess at what they have in mind. It seems foolish, however, to assume that whatever approach is taken, it will lead to certain failure.
Are they guaranteed success? Of course not, but one thing is for certain; there are a lot more ways to gather non-advertising revenue outside of just another brain-dead login on a web page.
The Internet, like the market, is an ever-changing landscape. Rupert Murdoch and his army of gold-plated Boffintroopers have proved that they have the will, capability, and resources to adapt to those changes.
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