I read with a bit of bemusement about the Miami Herald’s push to ask online readers for donations as their read stories on the website. The plea is subtle, with a button at the bottom of each story asking to “support ongoing news coverage on miamiherald.com” The link takes you to a more detailed page where, with a credit card, you can give as much as you wish.
At first, my colleagues and I reflected on how the industry has come to a point where we’re doing virtual panhandling (“Here’s a great story, buddy. Can you spare some change?”). Or, better yet, we’re adopting the Salvation Army business model to save the industry.
But, after a few moments, I thought, “Well, why not?”
Certainly give the Herald credit for trying such an out-of-the-box idea to raise some revenues. With the sympathy/guilt factor beginning to build for the newspaper industry, it could gain some momentum among newspaper web sites. It’s simple to set up and maintain, and is totally voluntary among the readership.
It is, in effect, an online tip jar. If a reader values what he’s just read — in the same way he values that perfect double-shot mocha the Starbucks barista just drew — he’s likely to drop some extra change into the jar.
But the key remains ‘value.’ Any waiter can tell you that the best tips come from outstanding service. If a newspaper expects to turn over revenue through this method, it must continue to look at what it is offering readers and assure that the content is unique and relevant. It must be of value to the reader in order for the reader to pay for it. There are still a lot of publishers out there that haven’t figured that part out.
I hope the Miami Herald find some success in this. It won’t be the savior of the industry, but this has a lot of potential to provide a revenue stream.
And if it earn enough to keep at least one more journalist employed, then it’s definitely worth it.