Nobody’s Winning At This Kind Of Game, We’ve Got To Do Better, It’s Time To Begin

Simon Dumenco, the “Media Guy” at Ad Age, does a nice job defending The New York Times’ move to charge for access to the articles on its web site. The Times’ “paywall” goes up today.

Dumenco’s position is in direct opposition to Cory Doctorow’s. The BoingBoing blogger and sci-fi author predicts, “This won’t work.”

In his pay-wall-bashing piece, Doctorow inevitably repeats the hoary line “news is a commodity.” Only, it’s not. Dependable, in-depth, big-picture journalism — as opposed to the reactionary, piecemeal, out-of-context “aggregation” practiced by way too many bloggers — is an increasingly rare and precious commodity. Last summer, a Pew Center study concluded that “blogs still heavily rely on the traditional press — and primarily just a few outlets within that — for their information. More than 99% of the stories linked to in blogs came from legacy outlets such as newspapers and broadcast networks. And just four — the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post — accounted for fully 80% of all links.”

In related news, Yahoo! Research recently released a study that says roughly 50% of tweets consumed are generated by just 20K elite users, made up of celebrities, bloggers and representatives of media outlets. That number seems small to me, but I’m not surprised that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Personally, I love The New York Times. I’m also happy to see them charge for online content. Of course as a content creator, I am totally biased.

AdPulp doesn’t always deliver “dependable, in-depth, big-picture journalism” nor do we practice “reactionary, piecemeal, out-of-context aggregation.” We’re somewhere in the middle–we link to (and pull from) the Times and Ad Age and other mainstream sources, but a large number of our posts are the direct result of our press and industry contacts, while other articles are generated from original reporting and opinion writing. It’s all free, but as I’ve mentioned before, we’re working to develop paid premium offers and an eBook series. Like ad agencies, media companies need multiple streams of revenue. We’ve had advertiser support from day one thanks to some awesome sponsors. That’s one important stream, subscriptions, events and merchandise are three others.

Unlike AdPulp, the Times doesn’t need to prove that it is worth paying for. The Times’ media product is highly differentiated and the “paper” clearly feeds its readers’ hunger for the important news of the day. The information the Times publishes is food for the brain. Like food for the body, information is naturally occurring, but it’s not free. It has to be hunted and gathered, or grown from a seedling into something edible. It’s a given that the producers and handlers that bring this food to market need to be paid for the sustenance they provide. Why the idea of free content ever took root in the digital domain is the question. But whatever the answer to this philosophical conundrum, we are now, officially, out of the Garden of Freeden.

About David Burn

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am now head of brand strategy and creative direction at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.