Flotsam for today;

*I’ve been following with interest the revised issue of charging for content, or micropayments, as a way to make newspapers profitable. This week, Charlie Rose brought the issue to the public eye in discussions with Walter Issacson of the Aspen Institute (and former Time Magazine editor), Mort Zuckerman of the New York Daily News and Robert Thomson of the Wall Street Journal. You can read a transcript here.

While the idea of micropayments is not an original idea, as bloggers from Michael Kinsley top Mark Potts have pointed out, there are two serious questions I have about the discussion:

1. It seems to be assumed that, before the Internet came around, people were paying for content by buying a newspaper. That is simply not true. Though I have never seen it monetized, it’s unfathoimable that 50 cents covered the paper, ink, press, trucks, typewriters, pencils, notebooks, and … most of all … labor that went into the creation of the newspaper.

Plus, circulation directors played fast and loose with subscription rates, especially in areas where newspapers competed for audience. We practically gave away newspapers to readers, and the smart ones knew how to play the circulation game to keep from paying the standard circulation rate.

What paid the bills were the advertisers who wanted their message on the same pages with the content. The more people who read the paper, the more people who would see the ads. That’s ususally what set the market.

In other words, newspapers don’t sell content. They sell their audience. Always have, and most likely always will.

People will not pay for content today. It’s way too late for that. But technology has gotten to a point where newspapers should look at providing packaging and convenience products. That may get readers to fork out a few bucks to cover some costs.

2. The Rose interview was titled “The Future of Newspapers.” But where were the newspaper futurists? The entire interview relied on three old media people from East Coast operations, talking exactly like old media people. Where was Jeff Jarvis? Where was Mark Potts? How about Howard Finberg? Or Adrian Holovaty? How about people who are advocating or actually doing something new and exciting?

Let’s look instead of developing new products and packages that will make readers WANT to pay a premium, instead of trying to force our customers to accept something they haven’t accepted for decades.

* The full moon is out this week. As if legitimate organizations aren’t reaching for straws to try to save the industry, along come a call to shut down news web sites for one week to dramatize just how much newspapers impact society.

Now I certainly appreciate where this guy is coming from and his intent is sincere. But in all honesty, would it make sense for news organizations to shut down the one product that is continuing to draw in readership and revenue? And for one week?

But … and this is even more scary … what if he were to pull this off, and nothing changes in newspaper circulation? What would THAT say?

* I had the honor to be the ‘keynote’ speaker at the suburban Chicago High School District 214 Journalism Day, addressing journalism students about the future of the business and how they should prepare for changes coming down the road. Although I probably came across more like Jason Vorhees than the Bluebird of Happiness, it was still reassuring to see an auditorium full of young adults who have a passion for the profession.

Thanks to District 214 and senior Jessica Loveless for allowing me the opportunity. It was reassuring to see that there’s still a lot of enthusiasm and great potential for journalism in the next generation.

I just hope we don’t screw it up for them.


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