The Wall Street Journal’s model of putting much of its content behind a paywall has left it better prepared to deal with the new media revolution than most.
But don’t expect most other print media organisations to be able to suddenly shift to paid content. “It’s very hard to ask people to pay for something you’ve trained them to get for free,” writes former WSJ managing editor Bill Grueskin (lately of Columbia Journalism) in a fascinating blog post this weekend.
Bill’s entire post is worth reading with lots of interesting anecdotes, but a few salient points:
- The WSJ blundered into its paid content strategy, a move the usual suspects (Michael Wolff, Wired) lamented would reduce the Journal to irrelevancy. “I made the site paid because I was ignorant, ” says former Dow Jones CEO Peter Kann. “I didn’t know any better. I just thought people should pay for content.”
- “Slapping a subscription fee on an existing free news site is going nowhere.”
- “Micropayments, iTunes-style, is even more hopeless.”
So what might work for local media? Bill’s ideas:
How about a daily email that told them what traffic spots to avoid, or an authoritative reader-generated guide to the best and worst public schoolteachers? Or a regularly updated site that told readers how much and why local real estate listings had dropped or risen in the last few weeks, along with examples of how certain homeowners got appraisals lowered? Or innovative coverage of local government, providing sample bills every time property taxes go up and video clips of commission meetings intertwined with analysis and context?
Sounds good to us.