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Murdoch: Reality or Nostalgia?

February 25th, 2010

Rupert Murdoch was much derided for his attempt to promote the use of pay walls (The requirement to pay before receiving access to the site), but the New York Times and others are singing the same tune with their support of Steve Brill’s Press+ paywall software. The New York Times have announced they are going to use it for some of their blogs though they haven’t announced which blogs yet.

Rupert Murdoch described two kinds of readers. Those who arrive through search engines, about which the content provider has minimal information, and loyal readers. He has difficulty monetizing the fleeting search arrivals and relies on the demographics of the loyal readers to sell advertising opportunities to those with significant advertising budgets. The resulting conclusion that this search traffic must be behind a pay wall was derided by many commentators as nostalgic nonsense.

Maybe Mr Murdoch is just dealing with the reality that search driven traffic comes with insufficient data to allow advertising to pay for the cost of paying journalists.

While loyal readers and advertising may pay for the lower costs of digital content for main stream content there is going to be a section or category of content which can’t raise, say $200 per story, and for these more specialized articles to be written by paid journalists there needs to be some kind of pay wall model. It is easy to imagine this for specialized trade press particularly targeting high margin businesses such as financial services but what isn’t yet clear is how large the paid market is under main stream brands such as the New York Times or the New York Post.

Outside of high volume advertising based model, and the paywall model, the remaining models are of sponsorship, subsidy, pro-am journalism and advertorial where there is no attempt to make significant revenue directly from the content. The recent comments by Jeff Jarvis regarding hyper local content and CUNY’s venture with the New York Times are leading in this third direction with a combined pro-am and advertorial flavor maintained with minimal advertising revenue.

All of these models will inevitably exist for different kinds of content both for separate publications or combined within different sections of the same publications. We just need to let things settle out and see how much content is going to be consumed under each model.

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