Finding a Business Model for Newspapers

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Daily newspapers are facing decreased readership, especially among young audiences. According to a recent article by CNET writer Lance Whitney, a new Harris Poll shows that only 23% of those surveyed ages 18-34 read the newspaper daily. Even scarier, 17% claimed to not read newspapers at all. Where are readers obtaining their news? Online, where for the most part, content remains free. This fact scares journalists and media giants, who are scrambling to find a business model better suited for today's audiences.

One solution, posed by many, involves charging readers for online content. However, the same Harris Poll also revealed another shocking fact: 77% of all surveyed (all ages) answered that they would never pay for online content. Of those who answered they would be willing to pay, 19% said they would only be willing to pay between one and five dollars per month, and only 5% said they would be willing to pay more than ten.

What does this information mean for daily newspapers and their online content? According to a 2009 Time article entitled "How to Save Your Newspaper", newspapers traditionally received their income from three sources: news stand sales, subscriptions, and advertising. However, by applying this model to online content, a newspaper relies solely on advertising revenue, which can be a risky proposition.

The solution? An idea proposed to me in a conversation with an employee at the Ottumwa Courier seemed to solve a number of problems associated with paying for online content. His idea involved each reader creating an account with a newspaper's website and selecting only the sections of the paper which the reader wants. Under this system, each subscriber would pay for only the news that he/she deemed fit, and newspapers would thwart complaints over customers having to pay for an entire paper, much of which they may or may not read. I agree that this system would have many benefits. Not only would it would allow newspapers to save money by cutting out unwanted sections, it would lead to overall greater customer satisfaction.

While the future of newspapers may be in question, it is certain that the coming years will bring many creative and innovative changes to the industry.


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