Never giveaway a product if you have to sell it to stay in business.
Sounds like a no-brainer doesn’t it? Because guess what happens when no one wants to buy your product anymore?
You go out of business.
That’s what’s happening to the business of journalism right now. It is slowly, but surely, going out of business. But here’s the bizarre part. People continue to consume journalism – quite possibly at record highs (Take the Boston Globe. The Globe‘s circulation has never cracked a million subscriptions – even in its heyday, yet more than two million people now read it online).
The problem isn’t readership. It’s that readers don’t want to pay for it.
Why should they?
Newspapers and magazines – the primary custodians of journalism – started handing it out like free candy. Can you believe it? When newspapers and magazines first went online in the 1990s they were elbowing each other in the ribs trying to be the first to attract the most readers. They gave away the store: sports, entertainment, news, commentary, photographs, op-eds, recipes, illustrations – you name it. All for free.
Of course at the same time they continued to sell these same things on the print side. It didn’t take people long to figure out that it was easier (and 100% cheaper) to read the news on iPads and computers at their own convenience rather than pay for a soggy bundle to be delivered to their doorstep once every 24 hours.
It didn’t help when news started appearing first online (heck, I can read the Sunday New York Times on Saturday if I go online. Why would I pay to be able to read it on Sunday? Because it’s on paper? No thanks!). Let’s face it: Nothing gets old quicker than news and no one wants to pay for news they have already read the day before.
And now we have an entire generation that has been getting journalism for free for two decades. They don’t want to pay for it because few of them ever have. Ask anyone under the age of 30 if they have ever subscribed to a newspaper and they’ll look at you as if you just asked them about record players, VCRs and fax machines.
The challenge facing newspaper and magazines is simple. How do you get people to pay for a product that you continue to give away for free?
How do you turn around an industry that keeps cutting editors and reporters – the producers of your most valuable product because it can’t afford them anymore because it keeps giving away said product for free.
Ugly, isn’t it?
How would you save journalism? Can it be saved? Or will it simply resort to being a free commodity?