It depends. I paid for some apps for my iphone and downloaded the “Adventures of Tintin” game. I downloaded a few issues of The New Yorker because it’s much cheaper than buying the magazine. But will I read the Inquirer or the Philippine Star online if it’s not free? Maybe not, unless I find something that will compel me to do so. And that something is content that will have the same attraction to me as the “Tintin” game or the short stories of the New Yorker.
It has always been said that “content is king” and what drives people to one’s website, newspaper, magazine or TV program is the quality of content. That may not be true. The most watch TV channels are not necessarily that ones that are delivering the best programs. The most read newspapers, magazines and tabloids are not necessarily the better ones.
What will compel people to not only visit a news site but pay for its content? Will the “compelling content” trick still work? What is a compelling content in the first place? What will make a news site survive financially in a connected world where everybody can become a “reporter” or “analyst”? Who will pay, for instance, for stories about the Catholic Church in Asia [I work for ucanews.com] if traditional news sources (priests, bishops and lay people) are writing about it on their blogs and FB posts that are accessible for free?
Media guru Stephen Quinn said that the economics of journalism are “complicated.” He noted that unlike most businesses where people pay for goods or services, “media companies thrive by selling advertising around the free content.” Advertising subsidizes news. He, however, said the “subsidy system” hides the true cost of serious journalism even as it became the source of income for web companies like Google and Facebook in recent years.
The advertising subsidy model, however, only works for popular news sites. The giants get everything. But still they complain about the low price of online advertisements and small click-through rates.
Without advertising, will media survive as an enterprise?
Quinn quoted Tribune Company president Jack Fuller saying that the most stupid thing the American newspaper industry had ever done was to give away content for free on the web. And since then, media companies are on a race for advertisements to survive.
Quinn wrote: “Journalism in the Western Liberal tradition is a unique business in the sense that its product (news) provides a public good or service. Unlike other public-good activities such as education or scientific research, it is not protected from market forces by government support in countries like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, New Zealand, or Australia. (Many European governments subsidize newspapers.) When a huge drop in advertising threatens the financial viability of the news business, the media’s public good role is also threatened. We encounter a paradox: People need news even if they are not willing to pay for it, to be able to function as citizens (for example choosing which party to vote for). But newsgathering is expensive, and becoming even more costly.”
There is no doubt that the changing landscape requires new business models for media to survive. Will there be enough attention to fuel the so-called attention economy in an overcrowded market?
Media sells attention, Quinn wrote. But is there still a place for new “attractions” to get the attention of the audience? Is producing compelling content the answer? Will the advertising subsidy model sustain media?
Tough questions. Now back to the “Adventures of Tintin.”