People Will Pay For Mission Critical Information. It’s Time To Provide That Content and Charge For It.

Steve Brill authored two books, founded American Lawyer magazine and took the leap into cable television. He’s the creator of the now-defunct Court TV, but he may be best known in journalism circles for the publication that carried his name, Brill’s Content.
American Journalism Review asked Brill what newspapers need to do to survive.

“The central economic challenge of a newspaper is printing and delivering the newspapers,” he says. “Chopping down all these trees and printing and distributing is by far the biggest cost a newspaper has. So the Internet should have let newspapers get rid of their major cost. Instead, they decided to be online but do it for free, so they still do the newspaper, which they charge for, but not as many people want to buy it, because they can get it for free online. And they’re giving up not only their classified revenue but their circulation revenue.”
Brill is absolutely convinced of the soundness of his opinion — publishers have to raise their self-esteem, treasure what they do and get righteous about charging for it on the Internet.

I love that “get righteous” line of thinking. But who among us is prepared to move to an online subscription model? Is the New York Times? Wired? HuffPo? What about Adrants or AdPulp?
I can’t help but reflect on the fact that we do create value here on a daily basis. And that value does have a price attached to it, even though we give “our product” away for free. It’s like we’re working a rich mineral deposit, where we can see the precious metals under our feet but can’t quite touch them. Clearly, when we find the right way to extract the resource and exchange it for cash, we’ll be in business.
My thought at this time is we need an upgraded offering of some sort that thousands of people will pay for on an annual basis. One of the notions we’re floating is creating the world’s best agency directory. I don’t mind sharing this piece of information, because it’s not about the idea, it’s about the execution. If we choose to pursue it and out-execute the competition, we win.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Writing in the WSJ, Chris Anderson has more on the subject. His new book, Free, comes out later this year.

  2. Oh, the monetization problem. It’s such an ass-whip.
    I do think people will pay for good solid content. I think that’s been the thing holding the publishing industry back – consistency.
    We all have hits and misses, but it seems like the MSM was consistently batting in the 900s when it came to breaking news, getting things right, protecting their sources, etc.
    I think the online community shot itself in the foot when the MSM didn’t immediately migrate to the medium, and instead let the patients run the asylum. Now, when I think about paying for content on the web, I’m too worried that it won’t be worth the money that I’m slapping down.
    Now, if these publications completely abandoned printing all-together and charged what the content is really worth (not just passing along the cost to increase their margins like the record industry), I think that would work. I wouldn’t mind paying $10 per year for a newspaper subscription.
    I would (and do) mind paying $75 or whatever the WSJ charges though.

  3. Thanks for the added thinking Sean. I think true pricing in the music biz and in the news biz would help immensely. A digital reproduction of an album, for instance, is NOT worth 10 bucks. It’s worth a fraction of that. Likewise, a $10 sub to your city’s newspaper sounds about right. I’d pay it and so would many others. And there might still be a free version available for those who haven’t paid (yet).
    Another idea is non-profit news. Like PBS and every public radio station in the land, the content is free to all, but true loyalists pay a membership fee every year. Those fees, combined with corporate sponsorship allows the station to survive. Is there any reason, AdPulp and thousands of sites like it can’t become non-profit enterprises with time set aside throughout the year for membership drives?
    A tip jar alone won’t do the trick, I’m convinced of that. But becoming a non-profit where X number of readers agree to fund the operation, that seems to make sense.

  4. Sorry, aber das bezweifel ich ganz stark…