Both the New York Times and Time Magazine have published articles this week about the fate of the newspaper sector. Much of the discussion will be familiar to readers of the blog.
Writing on the NY Times’ op-ed page, Michael Kinsley’s article, You Can’t Sell News by the Slice, makes an interesting point about the economics of traditional newspapers:
Newspaper readers have never paid for the content (words and photos). What they have paid for is the paper that content is printed on. A week of The Washington Post weighs about eight pounds and costs $1.81 for new subscribers, home-delivered. With newsprint (that’s the paper, not the ink) costing around $750 a metric ton, or 34 cents a pound, Post subscribers are getting almost a dollar’s worth of paper free every week — not to mention the ink, the delivery, etc. The Times is more svelte and more expensive. It might even have a viable business model if it could sell the paper with nothing written on it.
In Time Magazine, Walter Isaacson wrote a couple of articles, including “How to Save Your Newspaper,”which discussed micropayments at length. Micropayments have worked with music, he notes, then offers a suggestion of how it might work for newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc.
But there’s a difference between paying for music you download and paying for articles you download: you generally want to listen to music again and again — but how many times can you re-read a newspaper article? Like it or not, often refered to as the first draft of history, journalism is disposable, generally having a short shelflife. Music does not. I can justify paying for music downloads (though I often prefer to have the CD as a backup in case of a technical snafu with my iPod), but it might be difficult to justify paying each time I rent an article — because I usually don’t need to read them again (unless for work).
That, anyway, is a hurdle content owners need to overcome.