It seems as if everyone remotely connected with the business of newspapers and magazines or even blogs has an idea about what these publications should do to monetize their internet content, ranging from registration to micropayments to ads posted by logarithm to some updated version of video or pod casting, some scheme that would allow them to remain in business, make money, and, more importantly, preserve the jobs of all the talented journalists that have lost their jobs recently, in part due to the economy, but also because these print products botched their interface with the internet and failed to find a way to make money online. Yesterday, in fact, I heard a lengthy discussion on NPR featuring Chris Anderson of WIRED that discussed precisely this topic. His notion was not new, but he proposed some free content to lure the customer in like Cstco does with their samples giveaways, and then charge for additional cpontent as one moves vertically through the website, ala the Wall Street Journal. He has dubbed this notion “freemium” a word that combines “free” and “premium” but nevertheless sounds like a neighbor of Freedonia.
Eh. While that might work for a precious few providers, as it does for the Wall Street Journal, what of everyone else? As they do say up here in Vermont, “the horse is already out of that barn” almost everywhere, and to mix the metaphor further, who wants to pay for the cow now when the milk has been free? But here’s an idea I haven’t seen anyone try.
In recent weeks my computer has been a little glitchy and slow for some reason, perhaps because of DSL line problems with my ISP provider, perhaps because of the lousy weather – whatever, it’s been slow. It struck me as I was waiting for a site to load the other day that one can make a pretty close correlation to the demise of print not only to the spread of the internet (duh), but even more importantly, to the speed with which the information arrives. I mean, it seems to me that the real trouble with newspaper and magazine circulations really didn’t take place until it was more convenient to read online than it was to read hard copy, and that didn’t take place until the infrastructure that could deliver the internet quickly, through DSL or fiber optic cables or whatever else does that, got really, really fast. I, for one, didn’t take the plunge into reading primary content on the internet until I received DSL service about four years ago. Until then, content sites like newspapers and magazine loaded so slowly on my dial-up connection that it affected my patience and make me insane. So I’d often go out and buy the damn paper rather than have a stroke while waiting.
We can't wait.
Print has nothing to lose now, so if I were running a newspaper or magazine with a web presence and a struggling print product, I’d control not access to the content, but speed of access to the content. Keep all the content free online as is, but make it S-L-O-W… either slow to load, or slow to navigate from one page to another due to load time or ads. I’m sure there must be some relatively easy software program that can do this, and there may even be a way to prevent copying, like amazon does with its “Look Inside” feature to control unwanted distribution of book content. If a reader really wants to continue to read the site for free, fine, but they’ll have to wait.
But if they want it FAST – like we've become accustomed to receiving everything these days – well, then they have to pay. At this point there are several sites I am absolutely addicted to and/or are necessary for what I do that I read for free every day. If, all of a sudden, (like what’s been happening occasionally by accident), it took me thirty seconds to access each article I wanted to read, or each page, I’d run to the store to buy the hard copy.
But if I had to cough up a small sum – say $5 a month – to access that publication online FAST, I think I’d do that. And if a consortium of publications (like newspapers and magazines) got together and allowed me to select, say, five or eight newspapers from a menu of several hundred publications, I’d pay even more to retain my speed of access, just like I pay more for internet service now to get it fast, than I used to when I was on dial up.
The only thing we’ve been conditioned to pay for online is speed, and that is something newspapers, magazines, and other print providers have failed to realize, and, even worse, take advantage of.
In other words, it ain’t “freemium.” But it just might be “speedium.”