Free Content Bad. Paycheck Good.

The recent shutting down of the Rocky Mountain News makes me wonder about its demise.

As much as I love free content ”” BeckyLand is papered with it, pardon the pun ”” I think news organizations blundered when they started giving away info and articles on the internet. They should have charged the same price for an online subscription as they did for a hard copy subscription.

Some people love reading their paper at the kitchen table while some would rather read it on their computer. Different strokes for different folks, but the writer, copyeditor and editor still did the same amount of work on it. Why would you give that away?

Or they should have always charged a small amount for individual articles.

Or they should have done both these things.

We’re seeing the same problem with television and movies. Why should I pay for cable if I can watch The Daily Show online? You’ve seen the ads for Hulu recently, but I wonder how they can possibly make any money. And it puts the television writers in the same sinking boat with the newspaper reporters.

I understand that the Hollywood writers unions have begun to address these fairness issues, but how do you get that genie back in the bottle? Besides, if the news and TV organizations  aren’t charging enough for their product, how can they include more money for the writers in their contracts? Take it out of their caviar or Greek vacation accounts? Hmm … don’t think so.

So, I’m wondering, should authors give away anything they write? How much before it’s a negative return? What’s the solution? How do we convince the public to pay for something they’ve been receiving for free? Or is there a new business model to construct? Does iTunes have it figured out, or will they put traditional record companies out of business?

0 thoughts on “Free Content Bad. Paycheck Good.”

  1. The problem with Rocky Mountain News wasn’t giving away content for free, it was that they set up an online version of the newspaper in the *hope* that internet ads would help pay for the content. This has been the biggest mistake all online media have made, because the numbers just aren’t there. Advertising on the internet is cheaper than what print media charged and hasn’t been proven to be as major an income stream as was promise at the beginning of the internet boom.

    The New York Times doesn’t charge to view online, neither does the Washington Post and a lot of other large dailies. What they do require is registration, and once you are registered they start collecting data on what that user is looking at. They then use this data to determine what stories readers are interested in and selling that data, via their marketing departments, to their advertisers and to other marketing companies in general. Information is the currency of the internet and NYT figured out how to mine that currency. It’s probably not covering the losses in subscriptions but their research has shown that many of their readers online also subscribe to the hard copy.

    News media also might not have lost so much of its audience if it hadn’t made itself irrelevant. Once news organizations started to buckle under and not stand up to the government people no longer found they could trust the media. The outgoing tide of trust was most noticeable when the government dictated what the media could report during the Gulf War in 92. If the fourth estate is controlled by the first, where’s the check and balance there? And as the FCC has allowed entertainment organizations to define themselves as news (as happened with Fox, which uses the word “news” as a brand name and not as we normally understand the definition) the erosion of public trust in the news slid off into the abyss like homes in Malibu during a rainstorm.

    There is a strange paradigm shift taking place in the publishing world as well, and the problem there as with newspapers is that they are trying to fit old models onto the new chassis. “Giving things away for free” is a very 19th century business way of looking at a world that considers this practice “building a market through permission.” In exchange for the “free” content readers are giving the providers “permission” to contact them for other offers, news, information, deals, or to mine their personal data for other reasons. Facebook is a platform we call “social networking” but beneath the surface we are all giving away bits of ourselves to the community and following that up with permission to let others comment and connect. There’s no way to know how that exchange of information is going to connect – indeed, that’s how I ended up here, and neither of us could have predicted it – or how useful that will be down the road. That’s a part of networking, part of the permission, and ultimately a part of what is going to shape how these new forms of content are going to be imbursed.

    1. Delzey … I completely agree that the media did not do their job when it needed to the most. I lost confidence in them when after everything I read or heard on the news over the last, oh, eight years or so, ended with me saying, “Yeah, but what about ….?” They never seemed to ask or answer the questions I had.

      I heard an explanation of this recently. Someone said that if you’re at White House correspondent and you ask a question the administration doesn’t like, they just won’t call on you again, rendering you irrelevent.

      My response to that is to wonder why EVERY reporter there isn’t asking uncomfortable questions. They can’t ignore everyone!

      Thanks for your perspective, and I love the fact I can connect with smart people so easily on Facebook!

  2. Pingback: the paradigm shift « fomagrams

  3. For the demise of the Rocky, you have to look toward Craigslist. Newspapers lost a good percentage of their revenue from classified ads to the internet. Why advertise to a small portion of one city, when your ad can reach around the world cheaper and easier?

    As for expecting advertising to pay for Internet content: why not? Newspapers have always been an advertising medium. I mean, we’re not communists. (Well, I was- but that’s another story.)

    1. Brock … I think they did expect internet advertising to pay off. But it didn’t, for whatever reason. But you’re right – Craigslist swiped all that classified ad money. Once the newspapers realized that, though, why didn’t they fight back with their own version instead of just rolling over?

  4. I don’t know if the problem was they were giving away the content for free or that they didn’t figure out a way to capitalize on a changing market. I’ve seen the same thing happen in areas of my field. As an attorney, I help businesses get started and write contracts for them. However, online you can find hundreds of sites that will help companies write contracts. I, therefore, have had to change how I market to show that I do not do the same thing. Those sites give you forms, I give you forms, make sure they are right for you, and tell you how to use them. The Rocky could have done something similar but choose not to.

    Craigslist and other online free ad sites started to take the profit that the Rocky (and other newspapers) were making. Instead of offering more than these free sites, for instance making sure the person taking out the ad was really who they said they were therefore offering ads that were less likely to be scams, the Rocky just kept doing what they were doing hoping to survive. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Other newspapers need to learn from this and change their business model to compete in the online world.

    Elizabeth Lewis
    Legal Solutions for Colorado Small Businesses

    1. Exactly right, Elizabeth. Every industry is affected by the internet – in good ways as well as bad. The trick is to adjust quickly. I think that’s publishing’s problem. They’re not adjusting, nor are they coming up with creative proactive solutions to problems that weigh them down. For years I’ve been waiting for the book publishers to deal with the horrendous problem of returns. There’s no other industry that allows you to send back their product if you can’t sell it … and then lets you order more! Crazy!

      Thanks for your comments. And good luck to you!

  5. It’s a rapidly moving world, spinning so rapidly that even some of the internet giants can’t react fast enough. A huge problem with all mainstream media, that is unfortunately becoming an issue electronically is the “free money” syndrome. The concept of “mass audience” has become so necessary to feed bloated corporate overhead that quality has fallen prey to the “how do we fix it so ten million people will buy it?” concept. The brilliance of iTunes, and its effect on the music industry is the wide-open market it has created for the niche player. Millions of people finding the idea of a 99 cent song (where a large percentage of the revenue goes to the artist) instead of a $15 cd (where the bulk of the revenue goes to management layers and executive perks) very inviting.

    An important thing to keep in mind as the changes in the music industry relates to this specific topic of free content is that the basis for the 99 cent song came as a response to hundreds of indie producers and musicians offering free content. Now, with the advent of the 99 cent song without the crippling overhead of the companies who felt they owned the right to control what people listened to, those independents can become players in the revenue stream at a price point that is affordable to a wider number of niche market audiences.

    I believe the future of words, woven into stories and hopes and dreams, can travel a very similar path.

    Maybe the time is right to start over, when people can make a comfortable living at a creative craft and not be obsessed with no more than amassing numbers and collecting shiny objects.

    Think how lucky you are that 500 or more generations of YOUR bloodline didn’t result in Paris Hilton.

    1. Ron … I think it would be fabutastic if writers could make a decent living from writing. I wish I was smart enough (and rich enough) to create the next platform to piggy-back on the iTunes model, but for books.

      Somebody get on that, would ya?!

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