Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How Much Will You Pay To Read Your News Online?

060309atdcrovitzAfter years of training people to expect that whatever you can find on the Web will be free, media companies are trying — desperately — to reverse the trend, and figure out how to get people to pay up. Or at least some of the people, some of the time, for some stuff.

There are plenty of problems with this plan, and I think the biggest one is that there’s simply too much commodity content on the Web — stuff that doesn’t have any particular value to anyone, or at least not much more or less than something easily available somewhere else.

(Aside: The scenario above is great for Google (GOOG), which helps you find the commodity stuff no matter where it is, and bad for most publishers, who used to have control over their distribution. But I don’t see how you can blame Google for that.)

There are a couple exceptions that have worked so far, like the Wall Street Journal (which is owned by News Corp (NWS), which owns this site), and Consumer Reports. And even the New York Times (NYT) was able to convince some of its readers to pay to read the likes of Maureen Dowd via an experiment a couple of years ago and may try something like that again. But how many New York Times, Wall Street Journals and Consumer Reports are there?

But for argument’s sake, let’s say your local newspaper does indeed have some stuff that you can’t find anywhere else, and it wants to sell it to you. How would it do that?

Enter Journalism Online, a startup founded by media veterans Steve Brill, Gordon Crovitz and Leo Hindery that wants to provide a backend service for papers that want to sell their wares. A few weeks ago I talked to Crovitz, who is the former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, and let him make his pitch.

They key point is that Crovitz and his colleagues don’t expect everyone to pay for everything on the Web — they figure that something like 5 to 10 percent of a publication’s readers will value the stuff enough to pay for complete access to everything, and that everyone else will be content to graze for free. That still sounds optimistic to me, but I’d love to be proved wrong.

If you’re looking for more details, here’s a link, via the awesome NiemanLab, to a deck from a presentation that Brill made to the hush-hush newspaper conclave in Chicago last week.