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.