The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that NEWS needs to adopt the High-Tech business model to survive.
Part 1: Expensive at first, cheaper later.
Forget starting with micropayments. High tech companies charge the most at the beginning. Next, instead of putting expensive content behind an all-or-nothing paywall, make it first available to subscribers (expensive), then drop it to free sometime after 18-36 hours. Then everyone, even search engines can access it.
That way, information can be both expensive AND free.
High tech never starts the price point at $0, but it always ends up that way. News should be the same.
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
High tech has been successful, BECAUSE of the tension between high-prices paid by early adopters, and the cheaper prices paid by mass adopters.
Early adopters who paid $600 for an iPhone got to use it and enjoy it, before the price was lowered to $200. The people who buy early pay the most, but subsidize the cost for the masses. Shouldn’t news work this way too?
Part 2: continuous product improvement
Great high-tech products evolve. Are news sites improving? If their objective is to (presumably) get people to consume and consume and consume their information, how are they doing? Does anyone feel like news sites are LEADING or INNOVATING web UX or content interaction capabilities? Who’s favorite way to interact with articles is on a news site? Not me.
A simple wordpress or mt cms over at huffpost or techcrunch does just about as much as what the NYTimes brings to bear. Lighter weight blogs end up being faster ways to consume information because it’s easier to jump around.
But news sites could be much better. Where are the personalization and recommendation technologies? Why aren’t they keeping track of what I’ve read so it’s easier for me to reference?
Even Google’s Project Management SVP says it: “The experience of consuming news on the web today fails to take full advantage of the power of technology. When I go to a site like the New York Times or the San Jose Mercury, it should know what I am interested in and what has changed since my last visit. “
Feed readers do this. At least give me a J-key so we can skip around your news site faster and get to what I want.
The high tech business model demands that news sites must strive to become the preferred way to consume short bursts or extended volumes of relevant, personalized and interesting information. They must become better than their competition of blogs, better than feed readers.
I understand there are technical challenges to pulling off personalization at scale. There are also management trajectory challenges, but low revenue usually fixes those.
In our own premium content system, we actually built most of these capabilities but didn’t turn them on since our customers didn’t think they were necessary. And they were half-right: sales were just fine, even with an old-school paywall. But now our customer base is expanding, and their customer conversion rates are terrible compared to our past experience. Time to fix it!
So next week we’ll start twisting the nobs and pulling levers with one customer to see what kind of conversion improvement we can bring with flexible ACLs, A/B testing and new-school approaches to monetizing content.
The point is that we’re doing this and news site can too.
Technology dies without continual innovation and news sites will follow that path if they don’t change things dramatically. The technology doesn’t make itself, but you can go out there and invent what ever you want to. Yes you can. It’s the high-tech way.
If high tech operated like newspapers?
We’d still be here: