Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, June 28, 2010

paywalls vs. ?

Jeff Jarvis is contemptuous of Rupert Murdoch's decision to charge for online access to his newspapers and magazines. I think that it's hard to imagine paywalls working, but what should Murdoch do? Oddly, Jarvis makes not one recommendation. If paywalls are so obviously misbegotten, what are the alternatives? Perhaps if there really are any Jarvis would have mentioned them. Maybe building paywalls and trying to keep sites alive via advertising are just two different ways of losing money.

8 comments:

  • Pay walls won't work because no one site is good enough to satisfy anyone's needs. Hell, no twenty sites are. In a given week I may read stuff from a dozen newspapers, a dozen magazines/journals, and a couple dozen blogs/misc. other sites.

    If pay walls started going up I would be able to afford, oh, maybe one or two sites (the NY Times, say). But I certainly couldn't afford to subscribe to fifteen different newspapers.

  • See our work on new business models for news: http://newsinnovation.com. Many recommendations there.

  • Thanks, Jeff. I know you have innovative ideas for starting new journalistic projects — I should have said that — but my question was specific to Murdoch: what should he do, given that he is in charge of vast, relatively inflexible institutions with enormous infrastructures. I think it's possible that for someone in Murdoch's shoes paywalls may be the least bad of several bad options, though it's likely, as I believe you say, that the only real question is when these big journalistic empires are going to die.

  • My inference, Alan, is that you take exception to the tone of Jeff Jarvis's column at least as much as to his critique.

    Has anyone given much thought to the rise of innovator/entrepreneur as the solution to everything? Or at least to the idea that the solution to everything is that people need to be more innovative/entrepreneurial?

    To me, entrepreneurialism implies an above average willingness to take risk, and that would seem to self-define as a limited group. In fact, the more people who are willing to gamble, the more the long-term odds favor deep pockets and savants, and turn against the merely bold.

  • Tony: I think the tone could have been earned if Jarvis had said "Here's a clearly superior alternative to paywalls."

    I think you're exactly right about entrepreneurial innovation as a universal solvent, but it seems to me that journalism needs as many risk-takers as it can get right now because that ship is sinking fast. Desperate times, desperate measures.

  • Tony: I think the tone could have been earned if Jarvis had said "Here's a clearly superior alternative to paywalls."

    If Jarvis had a clearly superior alternative to paywalls, we wouldn't be teaching at City College and writing opinion pieces for the Guardian

    but it seems to me that journalism needs as many risk-takers as it can get right now because that ship is sinking fast. Desperate times, desperate measures.

    This idea goes astray with two (implied) presumptions:

    1) That "innovative journalists" will have their break-throughs in ways that promote your idea what what journalism needs to be.

    2) That having had these break-throughs, the trickle-down effect will promote your idea of what journalism needs to be.

    I say this as someone who's spend the last 20 years watching IT sweep across the bread-basket of my life. And while it wasn't a blight that decimated the crops, neither was it a new super-strain of wheat that made everyone wealthier and more creatively fulfilled.

    It was just change. Some things got better, some things got worse. But most especially the percentage went out of being merely above average; and right now that looks like exactly what is happening to journalism.

  • we wouldn't be teaching

    And I would like to self-nominate this as the Freudian slip of the week.

  • Michael Straight said...

    my question was specific to Murdoch: what should he do, given that he is in charge of vast, relatively inflexible institutions with enormous infrastructures

    Can't speak for Jeff, but there are plenty of people who gleefully say there's nothing he can do and who happily anticipate the withering death of his media empire. He might just be a buggy whip tycoon.

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