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Thinking out loud ...

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Andy _ Kent, Jul 13, 2008.

  1. Andy _ Kent

    Andy _ Kent Member

    With all the craziness going on in our industry right now with layoffs and buyouts, and all of the uproar over how we missed the boat a long time ago once we decided to give away our content for free, I just had an epiphany.

    Obviously, we are looking at this crisis from our perspective, the writers, editors and photographers whose livelihoods are at stake. But a little while ago, I found myself in the shoes of the reader as I tried to find out more about the passing of Bobby Murcer, one of my childhood idols.

    While trolling on espn.com and reading the wire story, I clicked on Rob Neyer's piece about Murcer. Of course, I didn't realize this was an Insider piece until I got through the first three paragraphs and ran into a concrete barrier with the words:

    "To continue reading this article you must be an Insider."

    Well, all that did was really piss me off. It smacked of elitism and the type of words a kid might hear from his peers as he climbs the ladder leading up to the treehouse and when he gets to the door is told to go away because he's not a member of the Secret Handshake Club. Instead of enticing me to subscribe and pay, it turned me away because I knew I could go elsewhere to read a perspective piece on Murcer for free.

    I know this is a wordy post, but it got me thinking because I have been among those banging the drums for newpapers to start charging for Web content. But as has been pointed out before, unless EVERYONE across the board agrees to turn the Web into a "paid" product, this will not work.

    Perhaps I'm off base here with just the ESPN example because I'm not sure how other entities have gone about asking or telling the reader to subscribe. Maybe another method, like giving you a free read of that particular story with a caveat at the end that you can subscribe for more columns written by this particular writer works better, or when it comes to newspapers specifically, teasing a lengthy feature with a line inviting the reader to pick up that day's edition to read the story in full.

    Anyway, that's my rant for the day. Feel free to tell me to get lost, or get a clue, or let me know that I have no idea what I'm talking about. ;D
  2. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    T begin with, if you want to read about Bobby Murcer, why would you want to read something by someone who most likely never saw him play, never knew him, probably can only write about what he has read...as he shows in the first three grafs when he lifts quotes from other sources.

    Just go read the New York papers---for free-- and read what the people who actually covered Bobby and dealt with him on a day-to-day have to say.
  3. old_tony

    old_tony Well-Known Member

    Well, Andy, I accept your point that it will piss off some people. And I really don't care. If a guy who sells cars gets pissed off that he doesn't get to read the paper for free, then he'll have to explain to me why I shouldn't expect free cars. If a lawyer gets pissed, then he can be expected to give me free representation in court. And so on down the line.

    The idiots that run our fine business keep insisting "Well, our reseach indicates that if we don't give it away for free, they'll get it somewhere else." Fine, except they won't be getting our reporters who were actually at the game.

    As I was driving home from church this morning, I was especially down on things in our business today. One of my co-workers is also a member at my church and we were talking about the latest round of cutbacks.

    As I was driving, I came up with a parallel that I think makes sense. Take the recent release of Grand Theft Auto IV, which has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars. Now it's obvious that you can play video games on line. But I don't see Nintendo or Sony putting up websites where you can play their latest games for free. And gamers don't expect them to, either.

    You can play some pretty rudimentary games free on your computer, but for the good ones you have to pay. And gamers don't get pissed about having to pay for the good ones.

    Why do we accept such thinking when it comes to our product?

    Also, I agree with your premise that all newspaper publishers have to band together and do this. If you want to save the business, it must be done. We're still the sources hiring the best-qualified reporters. We're still the place for the best-reported, best-written stories that matter most. You'll never get people to pay for something you give them for free. And what we do has value -- much more value than our bosses are putting on it right now.

    When any boss-type says this is how things are now and giving it away for free is what we must do, my response is this: How's that been working out so far?
  4. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Active Member

    I'm with old_tony. If you don't want to subscribe as an ESPN.com Insider, then go get your info elsewhere. And if enough "elsewheres" band together to charge for their content, then maybe we'll have a shot at selling -- to advertisers and readers -- something that they can't get from anyone else.

    I'm wondering why this hasn't been tried yet, or at least scheduled, in a massive, organized effort by the nation's newspapers. What, really, have they got to lose at this point? The print editions are going down the tubes. The Web sites are losing money or bringing in precious little. If you put up a pay-for-content firewall all of a sudden -- on Oct. 1, 2008, for instance, to capitalize on Presidential election coverage -- what would the downside be? Some p.o.-ed readers who might stop buying your product in its current form? They already have, more or less. Those who are newsprint diehards wouldn't be bothered in the least by a fee for the Web site.

    Just what do these bozos in suits do when they attend their conventions, conferences and seminars, if not figure out this crisis? How is it that they haven't identified a drop-dead date for charging for content and developed foolproof software to make it happen? That would be time and money better-spent than on re-designing the print version or Xeroxing all those buyout documents.
  5. Beach_Bum

    Beach_Bum Member

    I've always wondered why the major newspaper companies didn't tackle pay-for-content by cutting deals with the internet service providers such as the major cable or telephone companies.
  6. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    Joe, I read your posts. And, in one form or another, they read the same. Not to take away from the critical thought and care.
    But, here's the problem with each hypothesis. The N.Y. Times, with the best journalists and opinion makers in the country failed at the paid-content paradigm. You think someone is going to care -- enough to make a dent -- what the 99% of the rest of us think?
    The only people journalists can sell their work to is ... well, us. That's why the N.Y. Times, the WashPost/L.A. Times, Scripps Howard et al have their own news services.
  7. zebracoy

    zebracoy Guest

    When Andy got pissed off at reading that first story, he gave up and looked elsewhere. Mind you that he wasn't looking specifically for that story on ESPN at that time - it was just something he saw.

    Next time Andy is going to read a story that he's somewhat interested in, he's going to click on the link, read three paragraphs, and get pissed off that he has to pay for it again and give up.

    The third time? Probably the same. The fourth time? Hey, that $20/month (or whatever) might be worth it. The fifth? Let me see if I can afford it. The sixth? He clicks on purchase.

    The point is, the frustration will come from being teased and having to pay for content. But when an organization routinely is able to lure people in with interesting writing and reports, and the people realize there's some kind of a value in that subscription, they'd be less likely to hesitate and more willing to pay.

    Hell, I don't read 75% of the stuff in my own paper. I don't care about the local amateur baseball circuit or the minor league hockey team or the LPGA Tour and I skim past it. But if you get me something that I care about - the nearby MLB team, for instance, or the weekend's upcoming local state U football game - I'll spend time reading the whole piece.

    You just have to have enough content out there that tells readers, "Hey, we have what you want, and though you have to pay for it, the quality of work and analysis will be so good that it will be a value." That's not possible in the current format, regardless of where subscriptions are set up.
  8. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    I think they charged for the wrong stuff. I don't really care what their columnists think, but I need the Times. It's the best newspaper.
  9. Bump_Wills

    Bump_Wills Member

    Here's the problem: Compared to a car or good legal representation, news has little intrinsic monetary value, and what value it has depreciates even more quickly than that zippy new coupe.

    Here's a good read on the subject:

  10. fishwrapper

    fishwrapper Active Member

    I know my stance on this differs from many on this board.
    But, newspapers have never charged the consumer for their content. To think now, because the rules have changed, that they are going to reach into a paid content realm and save the industry is ridiculous.
  11. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    This is the type of thing that should be done, no matter what.

    The longer we don't move forward with it, the more we devalue ourselves, our work and our products. And right now, we're doing it with no help whatsoever from readers we're afraid don't/won't read or from an economy that's in the tank.

    The powers that be in the industry need to check this off like a Nike swoosh, and JUST DO IT.

    As I've posted about before, I have a couple of online subscriptions to specialty-sport magazines that aren't readily available to me in hard-copy form. And I pay for those subscriptions, willingly, because I can't get the stuff from their sites, and, well, I want it.

    It's as simple as that. Come on, readers don't really expect to get content for free -- heck, nobody really expects to get anything for free. Or, at least, they didn't, until our industry opened up the floodgates.

    Now, I say close 'em. It is necessary, and we should just do it, all at once. It'd be less painful that way, and, in writing parlance, would be what you'd call just getting to the point.

    Things might get bad, maybe even worse, at first. But I think they'd eventually get better, and perhaps, we might even empower ourselves again in the process.

    In the meantime, every paper needs to get an e-edition up and running, sell ads for it, and promote it, just as much as they do all the other changes that are being trumpeted.

    The advertising staffs also need to get to work, as hard and as creatively as possible, on the modern-day longterm revenue-production issues. Just like all our bosses are telling the editorial staffs to do.

    As far as the NYT, or any other few outlets, who may have failed in their initial attempts to make this conversion, keep in mind that there is something of a "well,-everyone-else-is-doing-it," -- or-not -- aspect, sort of a just-the-way-it-is element, that usually applies in these situations.

    So, by extension, the opposite is also true. Any single paper trying to buck a trend and go it alone while most of the competition is still more available, convenient, and, of course, free, is likely to fail, especially in matters of money. In the general public market that newspapers frequent, at least, that's just the way it is.

    And that goes almost no matter how good or renowned the outlet is, or how talented its employees are. It just makes business sense -- to the customers.

    We need to think of this as another, more beneficial side of "pack journalism" as we know it in the editorial sense.

    There is power/safety in numbers, and this is where banding together in a coordinated, cooperative manner comes in.

    Because, when everyone is doing something a certain way, that is what other people come to expect. That is, after all, how/why readers are expecting to get our stuff for free now,

    Isn't it?
  12. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Active Member

    My posts read the same? I'll take that as a compliment to my consistency, Fishy. You're kind of redundant yourself.

    You're presuming failure of a pay system that has never been tried, with hundreds of newspapers on board in an orchestrated effort. Now, if you want to dissect this and say why too many papers invariably will break ranks or something, fine. But to say, well, the NYT abandoned a pay Web site, so a network of the nation's newspapers clearly wouldn't work . . .

    I don't buy that logic. Try it. If it fails, it fails. What has been lost? If papers don't try it, they're headed where exactly?
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