A Reverse Pay Meter for Online Newspapers, A Pricing Model That’s More Like Everything Else We Buy

Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine considers the upside-down logic of paywalls at online newspapers, where low-value readers get their content for free while loyal, engaged readers are required to pay. Instead Jarvis proposes that newspapers build the opposite — a system of credits that rewards readers for actions that show loyalty (and benefit) the publication, such as sharing stories across social media, looking at ads, reading more articles (which generates more ad inventory), and sharing data about yourself that enables the paper to charge higher advertising rates.

You can’t argue with his logic. Every other time we dole out money for something, we pay more when we get more. You want more features with your car? You want a faster processor in your laptop? No problem, just reach a little deeper into your wallet.

The problem, says Jarvis, is this:

Now I’ll tell you why my reverse meter won’t work: When I spoke with all our journalism students at CUNY about their business ideas on Friday, I asked how many had hit the Times pay wall — many — and how many had paid — few. Abundance remains the enemy of payment. There’s always someplace else to get the news.

That’s a lame excuse, though. With their illogical paywalls, newspaper publishers seems to acknowledge Jarvis’s point: Most of what they create is a commodity, yet they whine that consumers won’t pay for for it. Back in the good old pre-Internet days, when the dynamics of print-newsspaper distribution meant that consumers had to pick among the two or three papers, publishers could get away with charging for undifferentiated products.

Now that that’s changed, why not abandon (or license) all the common content and focus resources on what each paper can do uniquely well? Two good things will happen. One, publishers will stand a better chance of selling subscriptions if they create something readers can’t get anywhere else. Two, the expenses associated with making all the undifferentiated, overabundant stuff will go away, so the ad model stands a much better chance of covering costs.

  1. # BrianSJ said: December 20th, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Seems that the newspapers still haven’t read ‘better than free’ by Kevin Kelly http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/01/better_than_fre.php Plenty of ideas there.

  2. # Chas said: December 20th, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    And they should! Thanks for the tip, Brian.

  3. # Jeff said: December 20th, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Newspapers should monetize using a simple combination of donations and (obviously/openly) sponsored content. Simple. And at least as effective as the pack of lies they’re selling now.

    Most newspapers are unreadable online because of the devolution of online advertising. So I just skip them all together and read the highlights on via blogs.

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