Quality Is Worth Paying For, Now As Before

Yale educated lawyer, journalist and media baron, Steven Brill, is working to bring paid content to the newspaper, magazine and online news business.
His new company, Journalism Online, offers “an innovative system for newspaper, magazine and other online publishers to realize revenue from the digital distribution of the original journalism they produce.”
In a Newsweek interview about the news that The New York Times will begin to charge for online content in 2011, Brill congratulates the Times while managing to outline the three key services his “system” provides.

One is the platform, and as you now know, they estimate it will take them a year to build that platform and God knows how many millions of dollars. That’s one service. The second is the ability to have a common account, a common identification and password across thousands of Web sites, which makes it a lot easier for the customer. And third, the ability to share market intelligence in terms of what kinds of offers and experiments that publishers around the world are going to be doing. For example, we have one affiliate that’s going to be starting its effort by charging people who live outside the country where this newspaper publishes but who read the publication regularly. But as I said, it’s an enormously complicated, complex system to build the right way.

Brill wisely suggest that the Times move to online subscriptions helps reinforce his own business. He’d love to have them as a customer he says, but he’s also pleased to see “the leading journalism organization in the world” validate the path toward paid content.
“It’s great whenever any significant publisher of journalism reaffirms the idea that journalism has value–whether it’s online or in print,” Brill says.
In related news, L.A. Times is running a piece on how hard it is for freelance writers, photographers and graphic designers to make a living thanks to the rise of a commodity market for creative services.

Now the freelancers — the sensitive, right-brain souls who sell their creative power one byte at a time — are going to have to get just as aggressive as the big boys. That means struggling mightily to find the audiences who appreciate their work and make them pay.

I don’t know if “aggressive” is the right word here. I understand the importance of hustle, but it’s also necessary to be smart, resourceful and persuasive. The fact is you get what you pay for–the Internet has yet to undo that fundamental reality. There’s a market for cheap logos, cheap photos and cheap writing. And there’s a market for high impact, hard working communications. Both markets provide the elements of advertising, or media, as the case may be, but the ingredients aren’t much use without a chef in the house. Are they?
The vastness of today’s media universe actually increases the need for editors and creative directors. Precisely because it’s more difficult to be noticed–and everyday that becomes more true–the value of high quality work and the ability to assemble said work increases. To stay with the food metaphor, a burger from Wendy McKings is food, but it’s not the same kind of food as a burger made from grass-fed beef that’s carefully prepared on a wood-fired grill. Naturally, the prices for each reflect this.



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 head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.