How Engaging Is An Open Public Discussion If It Costs $20 To Enter?

from the civic-square dept

There's been a lot of attention paid to Pierre Omidyar's attempt to build a new kind of local news organization in Hawaii. Omidyar, of course, was the founder of eBay, and many of the early comments about the project made it sound like a "new" type of news organization that really was very much about making the community a part of the process -- something that we've pointed out makes a lot of sense. Omidyar also brought in John Temple, the former editor, president and publisher of the (failed) Rocky Mountain News -- who had been quite introspective in recognizing why RMN failed. So it seemed like the new project, originally called Peer News, had a good basis.

But the details are coming out, and they seem... odd. Apparently, the newly named "Honolulu Civil Beat," which is supposed to be more like the discussion found in a "civic square" thinks it can charge people $19.99 per month to take part. That's quite a steep entrance fee to a "civic square." I thought part of the value of the civic square was its openness.

Even worse, Temple (who clearly knows better) is trotting out the old school media's most tired excuse for why paywalls will work: claiming that because the WSJ has done it, others can as well:
"People are paying on the Web for (publications such as) The Wall Street Journal; it has established value. ... We believe people will pay for content and experience that they value."
But that ignores why people pay for the Wall Street Journal, which is not just that "it has value," but that it has scarce value that helps people make money now. I don't recall similar information being covered in the normal civic square. In the meantime, I'm sure there are plenty of local community sites for Honolulu already. Why would people want to pay extra to join just one of them?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 9:15pm

    without seeing the products to compare there is no way to know. at $20 a month, if there is strong community, it might actually work out. do you have some links to products to compare?

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

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 9:25pm


    The $20 fee would hinder the building of a strong community, so there's less likelihood of it ever having enough value for anyone to think of paying for it.

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

  3. identicon
    one thing, Apr 21st, 2010 @ 9:49pm

    one thing

    Money changes directly how people comment. While not 'open,' it does filter out spam and people that aren't passionate about the area of discussion/trolls.

    But yeah this is silly. Dude has enough money. Why not into it free?

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

  4. icon
    fogbugzd (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:06pm

    One thing that the WSJ has going for it is that businesses pick up the tab for executives and major clients. In fact, in some sectors, your subscriptin is what says you have arrived. I doubt that many corporate expense accounts will cover the HCB.

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

  5. icon
    zegota (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 10:30pm

    Re: Re:

    Agreed, this is stupid. It'd be much better to build a community around free content, and then monetize the community (by offering extra incentives, not by locking the community by a paywall five years down the line).

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

  6. icon
    Michael Lockyear (profile), Apr 21st, 2010 @ 11:39pm

    This is a non-starter of an idea. Not enough people will pay for the site for it to be a "community". I would be surprised / impressed if they are able to get people to use the site for free.

    We are being flooded with information, and have limited time / attention. This is the real problem that the news media face - they are selling / giving away generic information in the age of the niche.

    If the news industry had woken up 10 years ago they might have been able to build a platform like Google, but they missed that boat.

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

  7. identicon
    ftfy, Apr 22nd, 2010 @ 5:37am


    "at $20 a month, if there is strong community, it might actually work out."

    at $20 a month, if there is a rich community, it might actually keep out the riff raff.

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

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Hide this ad »
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Chat
Hide this ad »
Recent Stories
Advertisement - Amazon Prime Music
Hide this ad »


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.