Pens & Swords: Barry Ritholtz and Felix Salmon Debate How to Save Newspapers

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Our inaugural edition of “Pens & Swords” features a debate between Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture and Felix Salmon at Reuters. These two top bloggers have differing views regarding how print news outlets should deal with the frightful disappearance of revenue. Let’s take a look at the two positions and open up the floor for your comments below: [column width="47%" padding="6%"]Barry Morning MeetingBarry Ritholtz asserts:

[News outlets must] change mindsets, alter behavior, and generate revenue in a sustainable way (i.e., make papers structurally profitable).

His suggestion:

1) REGISTRATION: All media sites (WSJ, WaPo, NYT) should to require registration to read ANY article. Start with a Name and Email (perhaps later add address and phone number). Every online paper should have a firewall, and all you can see if you are not registered is the headline and 1st paragraph (ala WSJ). This needs to occur across the media landscape at the same time.

The point of this is to establish a relationship between the reader and the content producer, as opposed to a mere blind consumption.

2) SELECT PAYMENTS: Six months later, introduce micro-payments (pennies) for select content. This would consist of a few pennies an article. Credit Card companies should be able to batch process, or banks can do direct transfers (like paypal). This needs to be a simple and familiar transaction, preferably one that does no require an entire new infrastructure.

I would also look for creative ways to determine what articles are charged for: Front page, most popular, most commented on, most blogged, etc. The goal at this point is not to generate revenue, but to get the media consuming public used to paying for content.

3) FULL SUBSCRIPTION: One year later, ALL NEW articles require micro-payments.

I would  also suggest that articles more than 3 or 6 months old be either very inexpensive or advertiser supported.

[Read the full article]

[/column] [column width="47%" padding="0"]felix salmonFelix Salmon rebuts:

As a blogger, Barry Ritholtz ought to be super-alert to one obvious consequence his proposal that newspapers charge micropayments for their content: that content will simply migrate to free blogs.

His rationale:

  1. Cease-and-desist letters are expensive, time-consuming, they don’t always work, and most importantly they only serve to antagonize bloggers;
  2. People will just start emailing articles to each other, or posting them on their Facebook page; and,
  3. If readers become resentful of their newspapers, because they have to pay for every article they read and because they can’t easily pass that article on to others, then that’s a great way of destroying a valuable relationship [which can now be sold to advertisers].

[Read the full article]

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