Only two for this dance

Ruppert Murdoch says the Wall Street Journal will soon start charging for all of its content. Good for them. I hope the rest of the industry doesn’t rush head long into a scheme that won’t work for a majority of digital outlets.

I say “for them” because the WSJ is one of two newspapers in the country that could make money by charging for its content. The other: the New York Times. All of the other newspapers: no way.

Here’s why. The WSJ and NYT each produce exclusive content not available anywhere else. The WSJ’s financial reporting is the best there is, and the information and insights important to businesses and financiers around the globe. The NYT  is, arguably, the last great American newspaper. With 1,200 reporters it can still cover national and international news like no one else. People want to read their investigative piece, and their lineup of columnists like Friedman, Brooks, Goodman and Rich are unparalled.

If each start to charge, will their page views and visits decrease? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t care. These paying customers are likely to be more engaged with the digital product and more valuable to advertisers. These two sites  will likely shed drive by visits who come for one piece of information and leave the site. Those visits have little value to advertisers.

Can others follow the lead? Doubtful. To make money by charging for information, you need something that’s compelling, can’t be found anywhere else, and can attract a cadre of paying customers through a national audience. Kristof’s columns on how some governments use rape to wage war against its citizens meet that definition. A story on whether a local school board votes to put a levy on the ballot does not. That might hold intense interest about a few hundred people in the local community; Kristof might hold interest among tens of thousands. You can easily see which makes more money.

So, what should the industry do? That’s the topic for the next blog

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