Tagged: paywalls

The Value Of News

Last night I attended a fascinating Q&A with the MD of Guardian Australia, Ian McLelland (above centre), and its International Director, Tony Danker (above left). It was a wide-ranging conversation, taking in a number of topics to do with the future of media, the rise of data journalism, and how you create a sustainable business model in the 21st Century.

This morning I read an equally interesting piece which touched on many of the same topics and had the memorable, if not exactly snappy, headline: The unfortunate fact is that online journalism can’t survive without a wealthy benefactor or cat GIFsIn this Matthew Ingram argued that news has always been subsidised (by things like classifieds and the like, which the internet has stripped away) and that essentially the only two routes left to publishers are to chase page views (hence cat GIFs) or look for a wealthy benefactor, such as Jeff Bezos.

To round off this unholy trinity, I saw an article in Digiday which highlighted the fact that many publishers are now creating content solely to drive page views, such as slideshows and the like, because that’s how they monetise their inventory. It suggested that the likes of Pitchfork, with their dazzling, if slightly dizzying ‘cover story’ about Daft Punk, showed that this isn’t the only way to create a successful digital media business.

So what can we take from all this?

At the Guardian Q&A Danker asked whether the 21st Century newsroom should employ as many developers as journalists. My fear is that if they do, they will end up with every story looking like the Daft Punk one – technically beautiful and definitely forward thinking, but with the tech potentially distracting from the story itself. And is there really any point when the likes of Flipboard are raising ridiculous amounts of money, and presumably using this to hire lots of devleopers? How can you anyone compete with that? Would it not be better to find the best people and companies to partner with?

Digiday suggests that the replacement for pages views and impressions will be unique visits, social lift (sharing) or interactions within ad-units. But these all still feel rather dated to me. Surely a better way of measuring effectiveness, and then charging for it, are things like the amount of views that are within a desired audience (using tolls such as OCR) or the effect of advertorial/brand supported content (or native advertising as we have to call it now) on metrics like consideration, brand uplift and the like. The former are all advertising metrics, the latter are more like business objectives.

And finally it strikes me that in the quest to get more coverage, social lift and, ultimately, page views, Ingram sacrificed the sanctity of his story for a great headline. Because at the very end of his piece he says this:

Some media companies have taken an agnostic approach to the problem, including the the Economist and Atlantic Media. The former has a valuable proprietary research arm as well as an  events business (a similar model to the one Gigaom uses), while the Atlantic is owned by a wealthy benefactor but also does events, and is trying to build a digital subscription business.

Which highlights that there are in fact perfectly viable models that don’t involve becoming a charitable foundation or a depository for annoying gifs. But that wouldn’t have made such a good story, unlike Aaron Sorkin’s idealised version of a modern newsroom winning an Emmy, which suggests that things haven’t changed that much in journalism after all.


Has My Patience With The Guardian Expired?

App expiry

I had my first letter printed by The Guardian in September 2000, 4 days after my 25th birthday. Talk about the ultimate present. It was in the Weekend magazine; it was a response to an on-going joke in the letters pages of the magazine and I guess, upon reading it again now, that you probably had to be there.

Through its sister paper, The Observer, The Guardian had been part of my life for years, as we had had The Observer delivered to our house every Sunday since I was a kid. Between the two papers, I had everything I needed – great articles, commentary that I generally agreed with (but which, when I didn’t, made me think), well thought out design and tastes, in terms of the types of art & music that it featured and favoured, that matched my own.

That letter was the first but not the last that I had printed in either The Guardian or Observer (seven and counting), and my fandom has been taken to even greater heights since I’ve featured in two articles (online only mind you.) I was, and probably still am, what many people would describe as a Guardianista, even if I haven’t always agreed with everything they’ve done.

So, when I recently realised that my subscription to The Guardian app is due to expire, you might think that I would have renewed it immediately. After all, I love the brand and like being able to get news from the UK. The whole time I was in Ireland, I still read both The Guardian & The Observer, often the print versions. And, even here in Sydney, the news site I probably check more than any other is guardian.co.uk.

And, importantly, I’m a strong believer in paying for content. It seems strange having to even say that; imagine someone having to explain, almost sheepishly, that they believed in paying for food before leaving a supermarket.


I’m not sure I’m going to renew it.

The paper is losing money like it’s going out of fashion, but doesn’t seem to be able to get its ship in order. The mobile app is, frankly, frustrating whereas the (free) mobile site, which has recently been redesigned, is really rather good. It’s almost like their belief in providing free online services* is such that they would rather go out of business than actually charge. Yes, they charge for the iPhone app, but 30% of that revenue goes to Apple, so it probably fits with their masochistic business strategy.

Why not go the way of the FT and create a paid for web-app? It could be as good as the current mobile site. but The Guardian would get to keep all the money. Instead they spend their time expanding their editorial operations into the US & Australia (I’m actually very much looking forward to meeting them when they arrive), whilst hemorrhaging money at home.

It doesn’t make any sense.

Thank God for Auto Trader and Top Right (Emap as was) I guess.

I probably will renew my subscription, almost as a sort of charity donation, now I can’t buy the papers any more. But I really wish that The Guardian would put as much effort into its business operations and strategy as it does into its journalism (worryingly, it seems that its business strategy at the moment might be based around bad journalism). Because unfortunately  you really can’t have one without the other.

*The Rusbridger cross mentioned in that article (where everyone waits for the axis showing web revenue to cross, and take up the slack for, print revenue)  is something I witnessed, though not with that name, at a previous employer. Here’s a free tip for anyone waiting for it. It won’t come soon enough for you, unless you charge for content.