New Business Models for Newspapers: Tilting at Windmills?

Hope springs eternal in the newspaper world, despite the fact that the business has been unremittingly bleak for … it seems like ages.

And yet, new business models are being trotted out. In addition to publisher Rupert Murdoch announcing that he intends to begin charging for viewing online content of his various papers beginning next year, Journalism Online announced in August that it has signed up nearly 180 dailies as affiliate partners.

Journalism Online is author and lawyer Steven Brill’s venture which is offering a variety of “pay models” that allow for micro-payments, subscriptions, sampling, and versatile flexibility in what news content is offered free or for a charge. Reportedly, more than 500 newspapers, magazines and other media properties have now agreed to sign up.

According to Brill, “By creating a platform of flexible hybrid models for paid content that maximizes online advertising revenue while creating a new revenue stream from readers, Journalism Online has helped shift the debate over charging for online news from ‘if’ to ‘when and how.’”

Just how is this supposed to work in a practical sense? The idea is for newspapers to focus attention on the top 10% of their most avid online readers, which would result in preserving approximately 90% of page views as well as ad revenues, even while migrating to a paid-content structure.

Oh, really?

This forecast pans out only if all of those “avid readers” continue to visit the site after a fee or subscription program is introduced. But what’s to ensure that will actually happen?

The marketing world is littered with examples of rosy projections and expectations that flamed out – despite a bevy of opinion research and focus group interviews predicting otherwise. That’s because talk is cheap.

But most online news is even cheaper – as in free. Nevertheless … hope springs eternal.

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