Can online fees “protect” a print product? Here’s an interesting story about how the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette walls off online content and has seen circulation rise, which is, to put it mildly, a rarity in the newspaper biz.
Overall, though, even though I love the contrarian nature of the story, I have my doubts about the long-term viability of this particular strategy for consumer media. Not because I think all online content should be free (I don’t think that at all), it’s just that “dual” print/online strategies seem to be missing the point. By ”dual” I mean, “We’re putting out a print product, and we will also reproduce the content online.”
In my opinion, the bigger issue is that newspapers believed they were in the printing business, and by devaluing content creation they helped to create their own mess. Imagine how different the web would look today if newspapers and magazines had believed from the outset they were in the content creation business and charged for what they did. Blogs originally took off because bloggers were linking to, and commenting on, freely-available mainstream media content. Twitter and other social media avenues grew from that. Would these tools have grown as large, as quickly, in mainstream consciousness, without access to the original professional content? I have my doubts. Witness how many tweets and status updates today are still links to newspaper articles.
But now that this particular genie is out of the bottle, I don’t think there’s any way to put it back. Social media may have originally been fueled by a desire to comment on professional reporting, but I don’t think it’s about that anymore — now it’s about original content creation and individual networking. The question is, how can a mass-media content creator, like a newspaper, develop a sustainable business model for today? I wish I knew the answer. Newspapers are going to have to develop more ancillary revenue streams, and possibly get used to the fact that they just won’t make as much money in the future as they used to off their old expensive-advertising-cheap-circulation business model. The huge, highly-leveraged infrastructures many of them built to sustain printing operations are dragging them down.
The parallels to associations are clear to me. Those associations that make all their revenues off “membership,” and the fact that they offer entrance into a community of people with similar interests, are in for rough waters down the road. If your membership doesn’t offer any real value beyond access to a group, how long (and how much) are your constituents going to be willing to pay for it?
Just like newspapers, associations build up infrastructure and then worry about protecting it. Job boards, listserves, private networks, magazines, meetings, “generic” industry content (as opposed to specialized knowledge), cumbersome “delegate” and governance levels … many associations watch with dismay as all of this stuff either changes or becomes irrelevant, and it’s human nature for all of us to think, “How can I protect my stuff? It’s going away!”
Well, maybe the time associations (and newspapers) spend trying to protect what they already do would be better spent coming up with new stuff.-->
It's the last two paragraphs which resonate with me, and--I hope--with many of my peers and colleagues. Take note, those of you with cumbersome governance (you know who you are)--this is the 'stuff' that has become irrelevant. It's going away, and too many of our valuable and our very limited resources are being used to protect it, when in fact it's useless in today's world of social media and 'here comes everybody'.