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In Which I Debate A Media Mogul Who Insists It's Crazy To Give Content Away For Free

from the more-opportunity-for-me dept

Last week, I went on PBS Mediashift's podcast to debate media mogul Steven Brill about the power of paywalls. Brill runs Press+, one of the first companies that built a business around setting up paywalls for publications. They focus on NYT/FT-like "metered" paywalls, where you get some content for free, but if you hit a certain number of pages, you're locked out unless you pay. Brill, whose company had to sell out to a much larger player recently (suggesting it's not as successful as he makes it out to be), insists during the episode that there is no way to make money giving away journalism content for free, and insists that advertising is no way to make money. You can hear our debate starting at around 18:45 on the podcast:

There was a lot more that could have been said if we'd had the time, but I found a number of his arguments bizarre. The internet represents a huge opportunity to grow and expand a business -- yet he's celebrating the fact that the sites who agree to put up the giant padlock he's selling are "only" losing a little bit of their traffic? This is the time to be investing in and growing traffic, because as soon as free competitors come along, and people realize they don't need to pay any more, what will these sites have left? They'll have less traffic, less advertising and less subscription revenue. That's no way to invest in the future.

Separately, there was a nonsensical story about a journalism student who might get hired for a publication, but if that publication gives away its content for free, she can't pay her rent any more. I have no time for arguments like that. If she got hired, she has a salary. If a publication is giving away content for free that doesn't mean it makes no money or has no business model. Arguments like that suggest someone who has no real argument.

I am sure that the publications -- mostly regional newspapers -- that are using Press + are successful in slowing the rate of churn. Some paper subscribers probably agree to do a bundled package for the time being, getting paper and digital access. But it's not a long term solution. Perhaps for people of Brill's generation, it makes sense, but I don't know many people under 40 who subscribe to a local newspaper any more. There's more and more info available for free online. And there are growing opportunities to provide more such info.

Advertising is a tough way to make a living, but no one says it's the only way to make money online. There are lots of creative ways to make money online that don't involve pissing off your userbase and limiting what they can do. When you do that, you make the content that much less valuable, and that's no way to run a business.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Richard, May 15th, 2012 @ 2:56pm

    So radio and tv stations can't possibly be making any money?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 3:10pm

    Re:

    So radio and tv stations can't possibly be making any money?


    He claimed that TV news only made a tiny bit of money for a short period of time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    RD, May 15th, 2012 @ 3:14pm

    An Obvious Thief

    Pirate Mikey and his Freetarding kool-aid drinking thieves just want everything for nothing, they would never pay to see anything like that Avengers movie. This is just an attempt to paint anyone who disagrees with the same broadbrush. If you don't use DRM or paywalls, no one would every pay for anything. No one would create if they couldn't get paid for it. Copyright is the only enabler of creativity.

    /didIdoitright?

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    rubberpants, May 15th, 2012 @ 3:20pm

    Re: An Obvious Thief

    You forgot that Mike is a lobbyist.

     

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  5.  
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    Jesse (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 3:27pm

    In Which I Debate A Media Mogul Who Insists It's Crazy To Give Content Away For Free

    At first I read that as "media muggle," as in a Harry Potter muggle.

    I like that better. Those who don't understand "free" are muggles.

    Kind of ironic, though, when you consider J.K. Rowling's views.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    ToFit, May 15th, 2012 @ 3:29pm

    Re: An Obvious Thief

    So there was no creativity before copyright....hmmmm... How was the wheel invented? How did we leave the caves?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    testcore, May 15th, 2012 @ 3:39pm

    Embed mildly broken

    When viewing this article's page in Chrome, the embedded video appears with the text, "unavailable. The content you are attempting to play was not found." On the homepage, the embedded video appears and plays as expected.

     

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  8.  
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    The Original Anonymous Coward (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 4:05pm

    Re: Embed mildly broken

    I saw the same message but when I signed in to Techdirt, the video appeared. Coincidence?

     

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  9.  
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    Pjerky (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 4:56pm

    One thing that I have been wondering for awhile now is how a new journalism site can get started and get moving quickly. Lets assume this new site has high quality content that people want to consume. You use this content (like Techdirt does) to add value to other things that you do charge for (advertising, early access, goodies, etc). That is all well and good. But I would be willing to bet that even with great content it would take awhile to build up the regular readership you need to survive on the revenue.

    Obviously it has been done many times before. But I would really like to know more about how Techdirt got started and how others can jump in and do the same. And yes I know that it isn't as simple as superficial copying of concepts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 5:03pm

    Re: Re: Embed mildly broken

    Welcome to techdirts Paywall!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 5:29pm

    Here's you a clue. NYT paywall can block all they want when they have shown the pages or whatever is the trigger. I don't care. Other than the rare editorial or rare article there is nothing in the NYT I want. I don't live local. Their ads if I were to see them, their weather if I were to see it, none of it would apply to me or have any interest. If and when I ever hit that paywall, I'll just grab up the title off some site that referred to it, feed it into the search engine, and an equivalent article comes up from somewhere else.

    Yeap, I can see how the paywall really really works well. They manage to block my eyeballs from seeing their product, ensuring I go elsewhere with ease, to find the same material from someone else. Sure brought a lot of income into their pockets for all the money they spent making it, uh?

    I would suggest they quit the tease and block it completely to any and all that don't pay. Maybe it will force them into bankruptcy a bit faster.

     

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  12.  
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    kyle clements (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 5:42pm

    Re: Re: An Obvious Thief

    If there was no creativity before copyright, how was copyright created?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    pyro, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:07pm

    "There was a lot more that could have been said if we'd had the time"

    No. There was a lot more that could have been said if the show owner would have at least attempted to moderate all sides and give everyone who wasn't Steven Brill a decent chance to talk.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:09pm

    Seems like the debate was won when it was pointed out that their system was thriving in the real world and you floundered around in your hypothetical revery.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:12pm

    Re:

    I have no suggestions for online, but as a former newspaper reporter, I can tell you that it takes a long time for papers to build up readership, too. And a lot of them do start by giving their work away for free (or almost free) for a long time before advertising. The investment is not an instant payoff.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:13pm

    Re: Re:

    Er, before *charging. Sorry!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    robin, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:14pm

    Re: Journalism?

    ...how others can jump in...


    Think laterally imho:

    http://stdout.be/2012/05/04/fungible/#summary

    In this period of disruption and transition, it's not absolutely written that 'journalism' is writing news stories.

    Information that's useful to me comes from wherever I find it, thus it is serving an old purpose: keeping me informed, interested, buying, voting, discussing, thinking, etc etc.

    At a not unadvanced age, I'm well informed, buy constantly yet subscribe to no journals.

    If I am well served, attended to and enticed, your business's bank account is well served, but I believe that you (the business not you Pjerky :) ) must convince me. Efforts to coerce me will end in fail.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:19pm

    Re:

    ...Thriving? Really? Please point me to a paper with a paywall that hasn't considered bankruptcy or a buyout in the past 5 years.

    The old industry is in trouble, no doubt. Yet online sites have sprung up all over the world delivering content people want for free and somehow also making ends meet. The very fact that paywalls are being considered makes it clear that the basic business model of most old-school publications needs a serious overhaul.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:46pm

    Re: Re: Embed mildly broken

    It's a video?!?

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 6:50pm

    Re:

    You missed where Brill had to sell his paper because he wasn't making enough money with the paywall....

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 15th, 2012 @ 7:55pm

    Re: Re:

    Oh yeah...because success is guaranteed with any business, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    The Groove Tiger (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 8:36pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Extra! Thriving doesn't mean success!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Bengie, May 15th, 2012 @ 8:40pm

    Redhat

    Redhat sell Linux.. for free.. And they're a billion dollar company.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    Watchit (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 10:29pm

    Re: Re: Re: An Obvious Thief

    Copyright has existed since the beginning of the universe! which would make it about 6000 years old, so there :P

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Greevar (profile), May 15th, 2012 @ 11:46pm

    He just doesn't get it.

    This guy is stuck on the idea that the content is what they're selling and if you're not controlling access to that content you can't bring in revenue. That's just silly. He didn't seem all that willing to listen and just rebutted with all the misguided counter-arguments that have been refuted already. This guy has no idea what he's selling. He's also ignorant of the fact that, like Mike pointed out, people will leave you for free content. It's vain (not to mention stupid) to think that nobody else can do what you do. If anything the internet has made clear, there is no such thing as unique and scarce content. People everywhere make content just for the love of content. There are journalism sites with free content, journalist blogs, and on ad infinitum. If you're charging for what other people give away, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage.

    I've been a regular reader at TechDirt for several years now and they consistently provide me with content I find worth reading and it sparks some really great debates. I haven't spent any money on the site myself being of very meager means, but I can see that you can very much give away your content if you provide goods and services for sale that make the free content you provide have even greater value to the readers. Mike has formed a loyal and supportive community around the free content he provides. He then offers the community that he works so hard to maintain things that make the free stuff even better.

    He's laid the foundation for a viral community that he can leverage as a source of revenue. The content is the lure that brings the readers in and other things that make the content more valuable to them is the hook. Free content spreads like wildfire and more exposure is always good. Had he made his model that of a paywall or metered, he would have hindered the viral nature of this community and it would likely be much smaller. It would likely be less profitable as well. Mike has rightly understood that the content is his advertising, his calling card, his bullhorn on the street to get the attention of potential readers. He also knows how to make money from enough of those readers to make a successful business.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    izzitme101, May 16th, 2012 @ 1:34am

    Brill, whose company had to sell out to a much larger player recently (suggesting it's not as successful as he makes it out to be), insists during the episode that there is no way to make money giving away journalism content for free, and insists that advertising is no way to make money.

    Did anyone inform google?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), May 16th, 2012 @ 1:40am

    Re: Re: Re: Embed mildly broken

    Hey, at least you only have to giv e ausername and password. I hear Universal are trying to buy souls with kittens and pink unicorns before you can create for them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    Jewell/Quepea (profile), May 16th, 2012 @ 4:00am

    Re: Paywall Sarcascm

    Love the sarcasm in this comment. Though NYT is trying really hard to justify existence as a business. This is an attempt to force feed by bating with rotten carrots. Sounds like an oxymoron to me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    martyburns (profile), May 16th, 2012 @ 4:27am

    Re: An Obvious Thief

    /dididoitright

    no.. its 'amidoinitright'

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    Beta (profile), May 16th, 2012 @ 7:03am

    Re:

    I agree. Brill interrupts constantly, even when he has nothing to say, and doesn't address the points where he's proven wrong. A person who works that hard to disrupt the debate usually doesn't have a leg to stand on.

    (And I love the part at 31:30 when he boasts that his seminar is "hard to get into".)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Judge, May 16th, 2012 @ 7:32am

    I subscribe to the NYT online and will probably keep doing so. When I was a kid, we were the only family on our block to get a newspaper. I seriously doubt that newspapers were ever read by more than 25 or 30 percent of the population in the last 40 years. Even twenty years ago, everyone got their news from Radio, TV or a weekly like Time or Newsweek. Now everyone 'reads' newspapers online, or on sites that use newspaper content like Associated Press content. So what if newspapers shrink back to only 10 or 20 percent of the population?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Gerald Robinson (profile), May 16th, 2012 @ 11:11am

    Pawall nonsense

    Press + reminds me of the California Gold Rush. Almost all of the prospectors died broke. The guys who made out sold them food and jeans (Levis). Except they are like the saloons; they sell stuff that (in the long run)is bad for their clients and makes them objectionable to many folks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 16th, 2012 @ 9:09pm

    Re:

    Did anyone inform Techdirt and CNet?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2012 @ 11:34pm

    I loved the post but the argument on air by Mike Masnick was not that convincing. I cringe every time he brings up selling t-shirts. That might be a very valid way to monetize content but to the average person I'm guessing it comes off as hokey/hippy dippy and as conservatives have taught us there is nothing worse in the world than a liberal "hippy".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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