Time Magazine May Join Newspapers In Committing Suicide By Charging Online

from the good-luck-with-that dept

So, say you're a general news magazine that's struggling to remain even remotely relevant in an internet era... what do you do? Apparently if you're Time, you think about charging. This isn't all that surprising, really, given that Time Magazine published that poorly thought out article arguing for micropayments for online publications. It just makes you wonder who these people are making these decisions and if they ever bothered to look at all of the attempts in the past to charge for such content online.

Filed Under: business models, charging, magazines, paywalls, time magazine
Companies: time

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  1. icon
    BobinBaltimore (profile), 2 Jun 2009 @ 5:53am

    Re: Re: Just more...

    "The point (apparently not clear enough) is that charging for content that isn't limited and is in a competitive market won't work. That's just simple economics."

    So, again, we come to a definition of what is "limited" versus what isn't. Please see my comments yesterday on the difference between information and content. Not perfect, to be sure, but it hits the general fallacy of stating that news "information" (really content) is ubiquitous. Firstly, it isn't really, once very real personal preference comes into play. Second, it only has the appearance of ubiquity because 99% of professional news organizations give away their content free right now. Since this free model is failing, that ubiquity will also cease to exist, whether as a result of putting up paywalls or by those organizations dying.

    "Subscribers DO NOT pay for content today."

    Yes, I realize this as I am in the industry. But let's break that down. Firstly, you are arguing for free in an online arena, yet your comment refers most directly to traditional print. That's a problem. The cost structure and revenue structure of print is very, very different than online. Second, the direct subscription fee paid by subscribers does not cover costs, you are correct. But it is the VALUE of those subscriber eyes that advertisers want. This is (one of) the big problem with online advertising: typically, it delivers only generic, fleeting eyes, often with little demographic consistency to justify higher advertising fees. This is a major part of the reason that online ads go for pennies (or just a few dollars) per CPM. On the rpint side, when someone buys a single page in Cosmo or Vogue (often in the high five figures per page for a single issue, depending on placement), they get subscriber populations which have a mountain of demographic data behind them, and which historically offer their ads more than a fleeting glance. Plus, print has no analogy to an Ad Blocker...even if only for a second or two, that ad WILL be presented while the reader peruses the title. The very fact that a person has made a financial committment to a publication through buying a subscription signals to advertisers that they are open to relevant product or service information. So yes, while the direct subscriber fee doesn't cover costs, the reality is that the lifetime value of that subscriber can be extremely high because of the advertising they draw in. And for copies at the news stand, it's just as good: they typically pay FULL the issue price, they usually fall into the same demo as the subscriber readership (maintaining the value of the eyes) and there is still no ad blocker. So, I'd be careful trying to cast an online argument in print terms. Or vice versa.

    On the business model front, I think my main issue with TechDirt's approach (aside from the HARPING that all free is good, all pay is suspect or bad/evil/stupid) is that their preferred models usually aren't based in today's reality...they require some gap to be filled in the future, or the presuppose that tech-savvy consumers represent the general market (they usually do not).

    "You say that as if we're not running our own publication -- and giving away all the content for free."

    Well, okay, but as is typically the case, you are ignoring the issue of breadth and scale. TechDirt is an affinity site (using print parlance) and a modest one at that (with apologies). The content you produce is largely derivative and you rely substantially on UGC for interest and traffic. I'm betting that the monthly legal bills for a major newspaper just to protect themselves from libel suits would pay for a substantial piece of your annual operations. And, as I'm sure you well know, business models must be able to SCALE and often don't.

    I'm not trying to denigrate or belittle your business, its criticality to those whose livelihoods are attached to it, or the value it may bring. But when you enter the world of pontification about business models, you can't selectively ignore the differences between industries or cost structures or scale.

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