It's no secret that plenty of folks tend to confuse price and value, falsely thinking that if price = $0 then it means that the value
is also 0. That's not true at all, as we've discussed multiple times. But, there's a flip side to that discussion that many in the news business seem to be struggling with as well: they believe that if they raise the price of their product, then by that very same equation, they've somehow increased the value, and people will suddenly pay for the news. Except... that's obviously a fallacy. Just because you raise the price on something it doesn't mean that people will suddenly pay.
Yet, Stephen Brill's new operation
is based on this very premise. The fine folks at NPR's Planet Money spoke to Brill about his new venture
, but what was frustrating was that they didn't directly challenge a number of his highly questionable assertions. They did
bring on someone afterwards who disagreed with Brill, but it could have been a lot more powerful. For example, Brill claims that readers have always paid for a share of the news -- while the truth is subscribers usually barely (if at all) covered the costs of printing/delivering the physical paper, but not for the reporting itself. Brill claims that the decision by newspapers to go online was "group suicide," but neglects to note that almost everyone (with a very few exceptions) who tried to charge online -- including Brill himself -- found that people just didn't want to pay. It wasn't "group suicide," it was economic survival
to recognize that charging wasn't working. He also claims that giving away content for free online is why newspapers are in trouble, which is shown as wrong later in the program, when it's pointed out that most newspapers are still profitable -- but the real problem was how much debt the papers took out. It's not about getting readers to pay, it's about how screwed up management has been.
Brill also seems to totally misunderstand iTunes, saying that it works because it's simple and cheap, so his Journalism Online project will be that way too. He leaves out the key point of why iTunes worked: the iPod. People wanted to fill up their iPods and iTunes made that
easy. But in the case of news, there are already lots of other options that are easier and more efficient.
Yet, at the same time, folks like Alan Mutter (who will be on the "news" panel at The Free Summit), are suggesting that newspapers should raise their prices
. But, again, this seems to be mistaking price for value, assuming that if you just raise the price, people are more than willing to pay.
Instead, the opposite seems to be true. Mark Potts recently pointed out how the online price of the Wall Street Journal (usually held up as the
example of online news people will pay for) has gone up so much
that he's reconsidered subscribing. Every time they raise the price, it just becomes an increasingly questionable expense, for no added value.
In contrast, however, Potts points to the Cedar Rapids Gazette in Iowa, who unlike most of these other papers, actually does seem focused on actually providing more value
, not just talking about how everyone should
value the paper, or nostalgically reminiscing about the "good old days" before there was competition. Instead, the paper has absolutely everyone talking and thinking about ways to really become the
central hub for everyone in their community. They recognize that they can't rest on their laurels and be the voice of the community because there's no one else. Instead, they know they need to work at it, embrace new technologies, and actually strive to provide a better
solution than what else is out there. That's a paper that's focused on value first, rather than complaining about price. Who knows if it will work, but it's a much better strategy than just focusing on price, like so many others.