If you’re not interested in the debate over micropayments and whether that will help save the newspaper industry, you’re probably not going to be interested in this post. If you are interested — as I am — you can find plenty of food for discussion in the links that follow. As more than one person has pointed out (including Clay Shirky), this isn’t really a new debate, but it has taken on an increasing urgency. My own view is that micropayments are not the solution, and that newspapers have to try harder to create value around their content, rather than trying to get people to pay for the news. But I am trying my best to keep an open mind (Note: newer links are at the bottom).

— Stephen Brill’s plan to save the New York Times with micropayments:

http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=45&aid=158210

— Walter Isaacson writes in Time about a payment scheme for news

http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1877191,00.html

— David Carr of the NYT proposes (or wishes for) an “iTunes for news”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/business/media/12carr.html

— a response to the “iTunes for news” idea:

http://www.thebigmoney.com/articles/impressions/2009/02/09/micro-economics

— Clay Shirky on why micropayment schemes don’t work

http://www.shirky.com/writings/fame_vs_fortune.html

— a more recent, and better, update from Shirky:

http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/02/why-small-payments-wont-save-publishers/

— a counterpoint that says micropayments will work:

http://browsing.justdiscourse.com/2009/02/09/can-apple-save-the-publishing-industry/

— Henry Blodget recommends the NYT go back to a pay wall:

http://www.alleyinsider.com/2009/2/murdoch-new-york-times-nuts-not-to-charge-subscription-fee-nyt

— Felix Salmon of Portfolio magazine responds to Blodget:

http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/market-movers/2009/01/21/how-not-to-fix-the-new-york-times

— another argument for the TimesSelect model:

http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/gstorch/200901/1631/

— Salon founder Scott Rosenberg on why micropayments won’t work:

http://www.wordyard.com/2009/02/05/isaacsons-pitch-for-micropayments/

— A response to Isaacson: “news has to stand on its own two feet”

http://www.hitsville.org/2009/02/05/hey-walter-issacson%E2%80%94would-it-kill-you-to-cough-up-for-a-nyt-subscription/

— Chris “Long Tail” Anderson on free vs. paid:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123335678420235003.html

— some thoughts from Jeff Jarvis:

http://www.buzzmachine.com/2009/02/09/can-journalism-go-with-the-flow/

— Rex Sorgatz, formerly of MSNBC, imagines a micro-payment system:

http://www.fimoculous.com/archive/post-5713.cfm

— Alan Mutter: The future is micro-payments, and a cartel:

http://newsosaur.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-to-charge-for-content-theoretically.html

— Michael Kinsley: “You can’t sell news by the slice”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/10/opinion/10kinsley.html?ref=opinion

— Journalism teacher Mark Hamilton on micro-payments:

http://www.tamark.ca/students/2009/02/08/paying-a-little/

— Nick Carr on supply and demand in the news business:

http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2009/02/misreading_news.php

— Steve Outing thinks Kachingle payment scheme is the answer:

http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/columns/stopthepresses_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003940234

— How the NYT can make money w/o charging for news:

http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/tomeditor/200902/1643/

— Jane Stevens of ReJurno on how charging won’t work:

http://rejurno.com/2009/02/10/chargemoney/

About the author

Mathew 2406 posts

I'm a Toronto-based former senior writer with Gigaom and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

24 Responses to “Paying for the news: A link-a-thon”
  1. In reading all of the various arguments, it seems that people are misconstruing what they are actually arguing *about* – or, perhaps the comment is better rendered as “what they *should* be arguing about”. Kinsley comes close to articulating it, but Shirky is right on when he says in an aside that “if small payment systems won’t save existing publishers in their current form, there might not be a way to save existing publishers in their current form” – unfortunately, he doesn't really follow the point up.

    Despite their protestations, one side of the discussion is not arguing in favour of saving “the news”, they are arguing in favour of saving “the existing mechanisms by which the news is delivered”. Those are two entirely separate arguments. There *might* be a cogent argument which shows that the “existing mechanisms for delivery” are the *only* way to provide “the news”, but I haven't seen that – instead it's just an unquestioned (if latent) assumption.

    As Matthew Gertner plaintively asks, “Can you imagine a world without the well-crafted prose of the Economist or New York Times, without the type of informed journalism that depends on the deployment of trained professionals across the globe? I certainly can’t.” Which perfectly illustrates the mindset I'm talking about: why is it that “informed journalism” necessarily requires the Economist or New York Times, with their respective massive cash-eating organizations and physical footprints? If the “news” industry *really* can't imagine a world without them and, to take an example, a giant Times Square headquarters, then it will expire not just because of a creaking infrastructure, but because of a failure of imagination.

    • That's a great point, Bob — it seems to be more about “how do we save newspapers?” rather than “how do we improve journalism?” If all we are doing is protecting the existing structure of the newspaper industry, that's not quite the same thing as saving journalism.

      • To *some* extent the structure and the journalism are inseparable. I say *some* because like virtually every other late-stage industry there's a lot of bloat and self-preserving flab in there alongside the very necessary things that allow journalists to research and write stories. Investigative journalism takes time, patience, intelligence, and hard graft that can't reliably be accomplished by unpaid or barely paid amateurs. And on the flip side, many journalists I'm sure burn through large expense accounts without producing anything that can really be construed as news.

        But it's the triumphant anti-intellectualism that I find most disturbing in some parts of this debate. As if, somehow, institutions like the NYT exist to belittle everyone else with long words and longer lunches. It's all a bit like Sarah Palin screaming that the media are elitist snobs because they want her to answer tough questions. Or, closer to home, like Harper's government's hatred and fear of anything that is even peripherally connected to the word “culture”.

        I'm very much with Nick Carr, that the conditions we see today are the beginnings of the market correcting conditions of over-supply. Part of that is also about accepting that institutions like the NYT and the Economist weren't foisted upon us poor yokels by cruel lords of the manor, but rather grew on the basis of a market that, in its own flawed way, values quality. In turn that means that those sounding alarm bells about the dangers of the “ignorant amateurs” taking over generally shouldn't be heeded, since the market isn't completely hopeless at allowing quality to win through.

        All of which is a long way of saying what I've said before: that the truth is somewhere in the middle, between newspapers and traditional journalism being all bad and all good!

  2. Excellent link journalism, Mathew. Thanks for this. You should charge. I'll give you a dime when I see you at Podcamp.

    Bob, that's right. Nobody wants to see newspapers go tits up, but certainly we don't want to artificially prop them up either, especially if that affects the ability of journalists to do journalism.

    What this is about is the kind of web we want to live with, as well as the delivery mechanism for journalism. I want the web to be more and more useful, not a partitioned, Balkanized, uncooperative thing. I want search engines to work. I want them to have more access to content, not less. I long for the semantic web, a step forward, not the step backwards that paywalls represent.

    I am not so naive as to think that because that's the way I want it, then that's the way it should be. But I also happen to believe quite strongly that paywalls are a stupid business model for the web. And I think the arguments against them are undeniably clear.

  3. […] Paying for the news: A link-a-thon – "If you’re not interested in the debate over micropayments and whether that will help save the newspaper industry, you’re probably not going to be interested in this post. If you are interested — as I am — you can find plenty of food for discussion in the links that follow." […]

  4. Here's another good piece on the subject for your list:

    http://www.thebigmoney.com/articles/impressions

  5. […] A ver si lo entienden: “newspapers have to try harder to create value around their content, rather than trying to get… […]

  6. […] em produce a product worth paying for, in which “em” is Isaacson. Isaacson is one of many people who think a combination of technology (micropayments) and brute business force (monopoly, […]

  7. This can be looked at more from a whole media level rather than just newspapers. Classically, the money from media comes from advertising. When a marketing or advertising firm buys media, we do it in the hopes that the right people see the ad, and act on it so our clients make money.

    The newspaper is just a medium for text and pictures. The 'net can do the same deal faster (although it's not as nice to read). As a marketer, what I hear is “web advertising doesn't work” but I think it's our fault; we're doing it wrong.

    So maybe this is really the problem of advertising, because those of us involved have ve not figured out a way to handle web advertising in a way that everyone wins?

    • I think that's a great point, Scott. I think just as there needs to be a conceptual shift in the journalism world, the advertising world needs a little of the same — too many assume that banner ads or search are the only tools, but there are lots of other options.

  8. […] In the meantime, help yourself to some good roundups of this kerfuffle here and here. […]

  9. […] -Matthew Ingram provides a “link-a-thon” on paying for the news -From TIME article (in links): “According to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines.” -From Wall Street Journal article (in links) by Wired EIC Chris Anderson: Consumers are saving their money and playing free online games, listening to free music on Pandora, canceling basic cable and watching free video on Hulu, and killing their landlines in favor of Skype. It’s a consumer’s paradise: The Web has become the biggest store in history and everything is 100% off. […]

  10. […] Comments Paying for the news:… on In Webworld, How Do You Charge…Hypercrit » Ja… on The New MetrosJane […]

  11. […] Paying for the news: A link-a-thon – mathewingram.com "If you’re not interested in the debate over micropayments and whether that will help save the newspaper industry, you’re probably not going to be interested in this post. If you are interested — as I am — you can find plenty of food for discussion in the links that follow." (tags: internet newspapers newspapersites journalism business revenue paidcontent micropayments free trends) […]

  12. […] QUEM ESTÁ interessado na discussão destes últimos dias sobre o pagamento de notícias na Internet é melhor guardar este link – Paying for the news: A link-a-thon […]

  13. […] 10, 2009 – 9:47 am Paying for the news: A link-a-thon by Mathew […]

  14. In the Internet Age we do not need hundreds upon hundreds of newspaper sites. But we DO need as many good news sources as possible, and they need revenue to thrive. Facebook, Digg, Newsvine, and any other good social site can be organized to “retail” the news, and the value add of user-selected, user-commented/mediated news stories is worth paying for. And you won't have to cajole or beg anyone to believe it, it will just feel natural. Of course, you can't have bad design– micropayments have to be ultra-low friction and no hassle. The wholesale / retail model of news (NY Times=wholesale, Facebook=retail) is the next step.

  15. The post really nice , i like it ,thanks for sharing,thanks for your post, i will keep read your blog everyday

  16. […] Bjon viittaa Timen entisen päätoimittajan Walter Isaacsonin kirjoitukseen, jossa tämä ehdottaa iTunesin kaltaista sovellusta uutisten ostamiseen verkosta. Saman ajatuksen on esittänyt moni muukin. […]

  17. […] question of charging for news online is hotly debated but the recession has given added impetus to the search to monetise content given away from free […]

  18. […] There isn’t a single stand-out post here, but the debate is fiery and very important. Time published an article by Walter Isaacson called How to Save Your Newspaper, which focused on micropayments (or the “iTunes model”) as a way to fund news reporting. Several experts strongly agreed or disagreed, including Clay Shirky, Techdirt, Paid Content, and the NYT (a fuller list of posts has been compiled by Matthew Ingram). […]

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