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A profitable model for the written press A profitable model for the written press
by Joseph Gatt
2020-12-22 11:15:38
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Ever since the written press and newspapers were made available online for free, the press has lost basically its entire revenue source.

In the newspaper era, revenue usually involved individual copy sales, plus, advertising revenue.

newpape001_400But in the .com era, there is no individual copy sales revenue. Advertisers are also hesitant to advertise, because they don't trust newspapers claims when it comes to traffic on the website. Newspapers claim to get millions of clicks, advertisers see it more like thousands, perhaps hundreds of clicks.

So advertisers suggested that a sales-commissions based model be adopted, where online stores advertise on newspapers, and if the individual clicks on the ad and makes a purchase, the newspaper keeps a percentage of the sale.

But this model encourages newspapers to write articles that are both catchy and seduce readers into making purchases in those online stores.

But what do the readers want? The readers don't want articles that entice them into making purchases. Readers want to know what's going on around town and around the country. Readers want the raw facts, and also want pundits to make some thought-provoking analysis.

What do the newspapers and journalists want? They want to be able to keep their editorial line, while writing and publishing articles that bring out the best in them, while making a steady source of income.

So how do you monetize newspapers? Do you create a Netflix-like website for the written press. A website where you pay 30 dollars a month to access every single newspaper out there?

I don't think it's a good idea. Why? Because how would we share and split the revenue? Do we split the revenue evenly, and great newspapers get the same amount as low-quality newspapers? Or do we pay “per click” in which case newspapers are going to hire people in India and Bangladesh and Burkina Faso to click on the articles for a cent every 20 clicks.

Do you do what some newspapers are doing, which is paying for membership? Paid membership does not bring a whole lot of members. Specifically because members who pay, say, to read the New York Times, usually have thousands of alternatives to the New York Times, and they don't need to pay monthly or yearly subscriptions on those.

So what would I recommend as a business model?

I would recommend what I call “joint subscriptions.” What do I mean by that? Let's take a few imaginary examples.

You would have a company called Alpha. Alpha.com, for a 30 dollar a month subscription, allows unlimited access to the news and archives of the following newspapers: The New York Daily, the Washington Daily, the Los Angeles Daily, the Miami Daily, the Toronto Daily, the London Daily and the Manchester Daily. And then those newspapers split the 30 dollar a month subscription fee.

Then you would have a company called Beta. Beta.com, for a 30 dollar a month subscription fee, allows access to the New York Daily, the Washington Daily, the Vancouver Daily, the Radical Communist Daily, the People Power Daily, the Rich are going to Hell daily.

Then you would have Gamma. Gamma.com would have the New York Daily, the Washington Daily, the Los Angeles Daily, the Religious Daily, the 10 Commandments Daily, the 613 Commandments daily, the Gold Standard Daily, and the Fortune 1,000 daily.

Then, I could create a company that I would call Delta. In my delta.com business model, I would partner with 500 newspapers, and allow users to choose which one they want unlimited access to, for a dollar per month per newspaper. They'll click on the newspapers they want access to, and if they want access to 5 newspapers, they click on those, and pay 5 bucks a month.

All this should of course be done in partnership with newspapers.  

This business model enables newspapers to focus on content rather than on clicks and volume.

How would newspapers get paid?

An equal share of the revenue with the newspapers they agree to form clusters with.

How would you know that Alpha.com isn't cheating the newspapers by issuing phony subscription numbers so they can pay newspapers less money? I think we need a little bit of trust, audits could be ordered. And, given that newspapers aren't making much money anyway, this should enable a revenue source like they haven't seen in a long time.

Who should own Alpha.com or Beta.com? I would say private individuals, not newspapers. That is if the New York Daily owns Alpha.com, they might bend the rules to favor their own newspaper, which wouldn't favor other newspapers in the circle.

Does this violate anti-trust laws? No, because I could create Epsilon.com and work with a group of 50 newspapers, and you could create Zeta.com and work with your own group of newspapers if you wanted to.

What about print newspapers and subscriptions? If I were a newspaper company, I would only print out newspapers for those who subscribe to the print version. That is, I would no longer sell newspapers at the kiosk or grocery store, because, truth be told, no one buys those, except when they need to clean their windows.

What about competition with free content? People want to make money regardless. Those who are currently providing free content are really, I would say, desperate to partner with organizations that would offer them a stable, steady income source.

What about censorship? What if, say, Alpha.com blackmails newspapers into not publishing certain articles by threatening to throw them out of the website? That's why we need beta.com all the way to infinity.com. That way websites can't blackmail newspapers, otherwise newspapers will just sign a deal with another provider, and readers will leave and join the other provider to access that specific blacklisted newspaper.

That's my advice, for what it's worth. Take it, or come up with an even better business model!

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