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Something new about paid online content

19 July 2013 / 00:07:20  GRReporter
6164 reads

Ivan Petkov

Newspapers sell news. This is so obvious that it is absurd to say it or write it, it is almost pointless. But when a business has been closely associated with the paper on which it has existed for so long the relationship between paper and news has become so strong and undeniable that it is almost impossible to pronounce the word "newspaper" without associating it with the carrier of the news, which is paper.

The digital era is here and it has driven the publishers to reconsider the unbreakable link between paper and content, to reconsider the formula according to which paper was selling news to its readers and advertisements in favour of the companies. It seems that the task before the so-called "traditional media" was quite simple: to replace the carrier and to continue to sell news to their readers and advertisements to the companies. What they have learnt from their experience, I do not hasten to call it ''bitter'', rather difficult, is that to change paper means to change many of the rules of the game.

It turns out that it is not so easy to sell content online. The advantages of the Internet have proved to be disadvantages as well. Readers are no longer limited in regional terms. It is enough for them to switch on their laptop or computer or take their smartphone or tablet and they have access to all the information available on the web. And "all the information" on the web means much, much more than the book world that the kiosk in the corner offered through newspapers. Readers have access to all the international media and when they want to verify the reliability and validity of the information they can use search engines. However, even that is not all! They have at their disposal blogs, social networks, Twitter and Reddit, all sorts of content aggregators and all sorts of ways to share content.

There are too many trends and sources of information in the vast ocean of information network. Media "sharks" no longer have the confidence of the largest fish. Recently, on a completely different occasion, I illustrated this metaphor in a short film:

Is it possible for readers to pay for paid content on the Internet although there is no paper? I do not want to oppose new online media and traditional print media because the challenge is for all and it is a matter of adjusting and following the constant change rather than of the presence of a rich history or its absence.

"The advanced American experience." We cannot but look at the media overseas, which we usually perceive as the ones that determine the trends in the field. Many of the processes that we are now seeing as feeble attempts in the Balkans have a long history in the United States (US). The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) states in its latest report that 8% of the revenues came from the so-called new sources of income, including paid content. Digital advertising added another 11%.

1% or 100 million dollars of the revenue came from paid online content. The optimistic picture of the following years shows that it is expected that paid content subscriptions will increase to 300 million dollars annually. The amount is not small but, compared to the volume of the industry which amounted to 10.4 billion dollars in 2012, it is far from what the publishers expect in order for them to perceive paid online content as a substitute for paper content.

The forms of paid content selling show that the transition has not yet been completed. The cases of package subscriptions that combine a paper edition and its online version are still common.

Why is it so difficult to sell content online? In short, this involves history + habit. Here is the explanation: in order for online editions to establish themselves they had to wait a long time before Internet connectivity reached the majority of the population. During this time, they had a growing audience which, however, was not sufficient in order for them to gain the prestige of a newspaper with a long history behind it. Therefore, they had to give more, that is to offer free content, to attract a large number of readers and, generally speaking, to sell to the advertisers. Furthermore, when a person gives money he expects to receive something in return. In the case of newspapers, you get paper which you could call "my newspaper". Paper itself is not valuable but the habit is a habit and it is symbolized by paper. A few people still want to sit in the morning to havbe a look at their newspaper or newspapers while drinking their first coffee. There is something comforting and familiar with leafing through its pages.

Next, we have many sources of information. If you start to offer paid content then you may face the risk of losing quite a few of your readers, as they will turn to media that still offer free content and advertising will suffer from this. The situation looks like a stalemate.

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