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Micropayments For News — Holy Grail Or Delusion? 234

Posted by kdawson
from the content-is-information-you-don't-need dept.
newscloud writes "Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab sounds off on micropayments for news content, on the side of the argument that says they are a dangerous delusion: 'What does it mean for journalism? It could mean charging for different platforms, for early alerts, for special members-only access to certain premium or value-added content. But I'm pretty sure of one thing: It doesn't mean charging people fractions of a cent to read a news story, no matter how sophisticated the process.' The article provides good context on the debate over micropayments from a 2003 piece by Clay Shirky, to recent analysis and opinion by Masnick, Outing, Graham, and Reifman. Google's micropayment plans were recently discussed here."
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Micropayments For News — Holy Grail Or Delusion?

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  • Premium content (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:09AM (#29502343) Journal

    If the content is premium content, something that I know is more valuable or interesting than elsewhere, then I have no problem paying for it. This is the reason people for pay for Wall Street Journal and the likes too - they get more out of it and the writers are specialized in the area.

    For everyday news, no. I want opinions and better writing than just simply telling the news.

    • Re:Premium content (Score:5, Interesting)

      by slashqwerty (1099091) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:30AM (#29502455)
      If they don't accept anonymous payments I won't pay for the content regardless of how good it is. The technology for anonymous electronic cash has been around for more than a decade. If a vendor wants my money they had better respect my privacy.
      • Re:Premium content (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:40AM (#29502521)

        The fun thing is that this is mainly a US problem. For example in Russia the most used payment method is WebMoney [wmtransfer.com], where you define exactly what information is public about your account and *by default* everything is private. All the information other party sees is the "purse number" of yours, ie. Z435903486439 or similar.

        And you can pay for pretty much every service with it, from buying credit to your mobile phone to doing online purchases. You can also get credit card that is linked to your account. And the system is a lot more secure than PayPal too, with possibility to use keyfiles and sms verification for transactions along others. And theres none of such cases where PayPal just decides to lock out the user account. It is actually your account.

        Sometimes its funny how much US is lacking behind on some things.

        • by EatHam (597465)

          For example in Russia the most used payment method is WebMoney [wmtransfer.com], where you define exactly what information is public about your account and *by default* everything is private.

          I have it on very good authority that in Russia, money pays you.

        • by Cyberax (705495)

          Also, WM's has very small commissions on payments. Far smaller than CC processing fees.

          It's actually possible to use it for 1 cent transactions.

    • Experience goods (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sjbe (173966) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:34AM (#29502481)

      If the content is premium content, something that I know is more valuable or interesting than elsewhere, then I have no problem paying for it.

      The problem with that argument when applied to newspapers is that news is an experiential good [wikipedia.org] and by definition you cannot possibly know if it "is more valuable or interesting than elsewhere" until after you have the information. So you have to pay for it and hope that it turns out to be valuable. You can rely on the reputation or reliability of the source, but that still doesn't tell you in advance that the information is good. Even if others tell you it is valuable, you might not find it to be so - think of a movie that all your friends like but you don't.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jedidiah (1196)

        Nonsense. You get to "experience" a periodical in every issue. Every issue
        is an opportunity for that periodical to prove itself. Even if the content
        is only available in hard copy you can still easily browse it and all of
        it's immediate competitors (library, bookstore).

        The character of The Journal doesn't change from one day to the next.

        Neither does Fox News.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by noundi (1044080)

      If the content is premium content, something that I know is more valuable or interesting than elsewhere, then I have no problem paying for it. This is the reason people for pay for Wall Street Journal and the likes too - they get more out of it and the writers are specialized in the area.

      For everyday news, no. I want opinions and better writing than just simply telling the news.

      On the contrary, I want news -- instead of this ridiculous sensationalism. And I don't want it filtered through anybody in terms of opinions. If Jimmy, 5, falls down the well I want the news to report: 5-year-old Jimmy falls down the well, and not: WELLS SLAYING OUR CHILDREN, GOVERNMENT IGNORING.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by slim (1652)

        On the contrary, I want news -- instead of this ridiculous sensationalism. And I don't want it filtered through anybody in terms of opinions.

        In which case you want a Reuters feed, or similar.

        Analysis, opinion, these are value-adds. Many people *don't* just want to know what's happened. They want to know what other people think about it - people who are paid to be knowledgable, or merely entertainingly opinionated or outrageous.

        Ridiculous sensationalism isn't to my taste -- but lots of people seem prepared to pay for it.

        • by sopssa (1498795) *

          It doesn't necessarily have to be ridiculous sensationalism however. Lots of people read slashdot for the comments, ie. what other people think, what more information they can give to the subject or make funny jokes.

          There are also news sites that tend to give more information about the subject, or actually add valid opinions and analysis to it. If its quality, I can easily pay for it. I wouldn't however pay for sensationalism, I keep away from such sites already.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bickerdyke (670000)

          Analysis, opinion, these are value-adds.

          as is filtering itself. I bet even the GP wants his news filtered from every bag of rice that tipped over in china, or the results of some back-country bake-off. (Which might be really important news over there, but not over here.) But not every news from over there is unimportant over here. So you as everyone wants your news filtered. By someone who is likely to share the same important/unimportant threshold as you.

    • Re:Premium content (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NatasRevol (731260) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @09:07AM (#29502787) Journal

      If it's truly premium content, then I can see justifying paying for it.

      However, the real problem is that most newspapers think that their editorial content is almost as good as the WSJ and the like. But the sad truth is that it's nowhere near that. It's not indepth, it's not researched, it's not thorough, hell, it's not usually spell checked. And every newsroom I've ever been in believes they have great content. In spite of the fact that most stories are PR pieces or written by someone else who emailed it to the features, sports or news desk.

      And yet the newspapers think that they'll make more money by putting this crap behind a pay wall. In reality, they'll just get fewer hits on their website, and thus ads, and will end up lowering their revenue way more than what they charge for access to their 'premium' content.

      If they wanted to actually increase revenue, there's a simple solution.
      1. Create compelling content
      2. Charge a premium for ads around that compelling content.

      Compelling content = more readership which means more ad impressions which means more ad revenue. Yes, compelling content is hard. But it's the only way for newspapers to make it in the future.

      Yet every paper sees it as giving content away for free. And they're all idiots. They provide a real service - information. They just need to figure out how & who to charge to optimize their bottom line. Because advertisers, especially local ones that are impacted by that compelling content, are willing to pay for good quality ad hits.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        It's not in depth, it's not researched, it's not thorough, hell, it's not usually spell checked.

        I don't want it spell checked, I want it proofread. Spell checkers don't work; the best thay can do is catch a typoo.

        • I'd be happy with spell checking. Proofreading/editing would probably be considered a premium service.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      I don't even have a problem paying by the story if the charge is 1 or 2 cents. But as clueless as most newspapers and old media are, I suspect they'll do something monumentally stupid like trying to charge big subscription fees ("All you can eat for $100 a year!")or trying to charge $1 or more per story. They won't get the lesson that iTunes taught to the old media in music (that the old $15-a-CD model is dead but that people will still pay a REASONABLE amount to buy a song). They need a shift in thinking.
  • by rodrigoandrade (713371) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:14AM (#29502373)
    I'll just get my news fix at free sites.
    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:45AM (#29502547) Homepage Journal

      That's the thing, they think we want content. Well, we do, but we've never paid for content. I can read the local paper at McDonald's or any number of other places for free. I won't buy news, but I'll buy a newspaper once in a while, and it will get passed around the office for everyone else to read for free.

      I guess that makes me a pirate in the eyes of "content providers".

      That's the thing -- we've NEVER paid for content, we pay for its container, whether it be a book, a newspaper, an album, or a DVD. We were always free to tape friends' LPs and we were always free to record TV shows and movies on VHS (well, since the advent of the VCR anyway). We didn't buy music, we bought records. We didn't buy movies, we bought tapes. We didn't buy news, we bought newspapers.

      Now that everything's digital they want us to pay two bucks for a song and you don't even get a 45, they want a buck for a newspaper and we don't even get the paper itself?

      Listen up, young people -- don't let the greedy moneygrubbers steal your money buy letting them sell you something that has always been free. Bits are like air; they're free and always have been. If you want to sell air you have to wrap a scuba tank or a balloon around it. If you want to sell bits you likewise have to have a container, like a CD or an LP or a sheaf of paper.

      These idiots think I'll buy something that's completely free from a myriad of sources. Must be some good shit they're smoking!

      • by natehoy (1608657) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:55AM (#29502655) Journal

        Eventually, some portion of what you are paying for the container goes to pay for the content. In the case of newspapers, it's actually a significant portion. A newspaper costs a few pennies to print, and even with delivery and markup, the bulk of the money the newspaper company is paid is for content, not the printing of hieroglyphs on thinly-pounded dead trees.

        Also, digital distribution is far cheaper, but it isn't free.

        I agree that digital music and other information sources are more expensive than they seemingly should be. But micropayments might help solve that problem. Headlines and a brief summary are either free or available on a really dirt cheap subscription (a dollar a month, say). If you want to read a full article, you pay a penny. Read an entire newspaper's worth of articles of interest to you, it'll cost you a quarter or so. Compare that to the 75 cents to a dollar that a newspaper costs today on paper, and that's probably a pretty accurate reflection of how much of your money today goes into content.

        A lot of the free news sites are actually making money on ad revenues, and hopefully that will support decent journalism, but I know my local paper is laying off people (including reporters) left and right because they aren't being paid enough to reprint their news, and print subscriptions are down. Someone's gotta pay a reporter to go out and collect the news, and analyze it, and write it up. Someone's gotta be paid to fact-check, and spell-check, and digitize photos. Someon'e gotta get paid for decent layout (whether it be print or web). Someone's gotta get paid to maintain the web servers and the Internet connection.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Eventually, some portion of what you are paying for the container goes to pay for the content.

          But that's irrelevant to the purchaser. The content is the carrot to get the purchaser to buy the container. It doesn't matter to the purchaser what the seller spends the money on. As a purchaser, I'm not buying news, I'm buying a newspaper.

          • by natehoy (1608657)

            Sure, assuming you're buying a newspaper. But you're assuming that changing the container eliminates the cost of the content too.

            The newspaper is the container, and the news is the content.

            If you read an article online, the web page is the container and the news is still the content.

            If you remove the container or switch to a cheaper one, there's still a cost to make the content, and the company that develops that content either makes money developing it or they stop developing it.

            Of the cost of a $1 newspa

            • by natehoy (1608657)

              One important side note in all of this. At no point am I espousing any of the four options. If people continue to treat newsgathering as a "free enterprise" that has no costs, it will become that, and we'll end up with option #4 as a default option.

              Then we'll end up with news organizations supported entirely by advertisers, beholden to their patrons instead of their readers and the truth they demand. And newsgathering will consist largely of reading the only sources that can be freely (or very cheaply) b

      • by sopssa (1498795) *

        So your argument basically is that you want something physical? That's a little bit hard with digital content.

        Now instead of talking about not getting the physical paper, you could had said that instead of buying single news stories, you'd would rather buy a subscription to the paper. I would if the price was right, I wouldn't mind paying $1-5 dollars a month to some of the sites I have in my rss reader. This is even more true for news sites that are my work or hobby related, which I have special interest t

      • by slim (1652) <john@ha[ ]up.net ['rtn' in gap]> on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @09:07AM (#29502799) Homepage

        That's the thing -- we've NEVER paid for content, we pay for its container, whether it be a book, a newspaper, an album, or a DVD.

        I kind of sympathise with your angle, but it needs firming up. A blank notepad is cheaper than a novel or a newspaper. A DVD-R is cheaper than a DVD. So we *are* paying for content. ... and the content is far from being free to create.

        Yet, to me at least, the content is less valuable without the packaging. A printed book is worth more to me than a PDF, simply because I can read it in more comfort. It's the combination of content and format that has value.

        The problem comes as digital formats become more ubiquitous. If I owned an eBook reader - a better one than is currently available - then possibly a digital copy of a book or newspaper would be worth more to me than a printed book. This is already happening for music: lots of people actually prefer to have MP3s instead of CDs.

        If digital distribution is the future, *and* we somehow believe that digital copies should not be paid for, then how does content get financed? I don't know the answer. I'm fascinated in seeing how things work out.

        For news, at least, I think that competition will push consumer prices towards zero, such that pay sites won't be able to compete.

  • Micropayments (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ZekoMal (1404259)
    Easiest way to find a free alternative. Most people already pay for TV of some sort on top of internet, so if every single news outlet (including local news outlets and blogs and places like slashdot) started charging for you to view news, people would simply watch the news they already technically pay for. I have no problem paying for new news. The problem with our news is that every outlet runs the same story with their commentary slapped on top.
  • NPR (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TrippTDF (513419) <hiland.gmail@com> on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:18AM (#29502399)
    Advertising on the internet simply does not work, and micropayments are never going to fly. Newspapers need to adopt the NPR beg-a-thon method. They need to learn to live with lower overheads and lower revenues. Their sales forces need to convert into grant-writers and they need to focus on asking their readers and big corporate donors for money.
    • Or, they need to find a new, workable revenue model for an age where people do not want to pay just to be informed about the world. The news itself must be subsidized by something else, some related business where the newspapers can use their reputation for quality journalism to boost sales. What that business might be, I do not personally know, but if it cannot be discovered, then you are right: journalists are going to be begging for money to do their work.
      • by MrMr (219533)
        What that business might be, I do not personally know
        How is it possible to create content, and print millions of copies and ship them for free ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_daily_newspaper [wikipedia.org] ), but not keep a server with the same content available?
      • by tibman (623933)

        Like selling ebook readers the way cell phones are done. Cheap up front with several year contract lock-ins to pay off the reader. News/Content could even be delivered as a paid service.

    • Re:NPR (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:50AM (#29502617) Homepage Journal

      Advertising on the internet doesn't work because they're doing it wrong. The more in your face they make it, the harder we readers concentrate on ignoring it, and when it gets too outrageous we put in ad blockers. ADVERTISING SHOULD NOT MOVE IN A PAGE YOU'RE TRYING TO READ. When I see a page of blinkey flashing twirley ads with two paragraphs per page, I know that the site is pure shit and is only there to garner cash for some greedhead. They're lucky if they get me to read the first page.

      The lower overheads need to come in the form of lower wages for the top earners. Millions of dollars a year, even hundreds of thousands per year for ONE single employee is ludicrous.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        Ads in general need to become more targeted and less obnoxious.

        This isn't just a "web" problem. This is a problem in general
        and one that is simply "masked" by older media because it's
        less obvious that people are ignoring you. The existence of
        Tivos and AdBlock make it obvious that people WANT to avoid
        your ads and are doing so. In old media, you can "kid yourself"
        because there's no obvious and visible method of avoidance.

        It's the old 50's idea that if people weren't talking about it
        then it wasn't happening wh

      • by blueZ3 (744446)

        If newspaper reporters, photographers, or even editors are making millions where you live, you must live somewhere where print journalism works differently than any market I've ever seen. The same if your local TV reporter (sportscaster, weather girl, etc) is making millions.

        As far as I know, the only people making that kind of money in journalism are cable and network anchors who are nationally recognized figures. This is a handful of people in the whole country--and lowering that limited overhead is not g

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I'm pretty sure he means the media moguls at the top. If you follow the majority of the money getting paid to these media corporations you will see that most of it flows into a remarkably small number of pockets. You certainly don't tend to see a lot of dividends paid to stockholders; instead, you see splits, which are half bullshit anyway. (The market half)

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Advertising on the internet doesn't work because they're doing it wrong.

        Advertising without flashing and twirling doesn't work. So what you're saying is, advertising doesn't work on the internet because I'm offended by the very things that make advertisements work, which is to say, getting and holding your attention in spite of your best interest.

        You're acting like advertising is about providing you information about products so that you can make an informed purchase decision. That's not advertising; that's technical information, and it comes from a different mindset. Advertisi

      • by slim (1652)

        The more in your face they make it, the harder we readers concentrate on ignoring it, and when it gets too outrageous we put in ad blockers. ADVERTISING SHOULD NOT MOVE IN A PAGE YOU'RE TRYING TO READ. When I see a page of blinkey flashing twirley ads with two paragraphs per page, I know that the site is pure shit and is only there to garner cash for some greedhead. They're lucky if they get me to read the first page.

        Market forces should solve this one. If it's not working, it'll change until it works better.

        However, if it is working (that is, the publisher and the advertiser are still making profits), then your individual irritation is not relevant.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by StreetStealth (980200)

        This is precisely why Facebook killed MySpace.

        MySpace advertising: "HEY LOOK AXE BODY SPRAY HOT CHICKS YEAHH"

        Facebook advertising: "Oh hey, you said you like design. These advertisers thought you might like this design book."

        Even if I never buy the body spray or the design book, the former ad makes me dislike the product while the latter leaves me curious.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:21AM (#29502417) Homepage

    It's the Holy Grail of media outlets, because it would get people to pay for something that has been given away for a long time. But it's a delusion as well, since efforts at doing just that have not met with anything remotely like success.

    For instance, the New York Times tried to do a "Times Select" paid service with a lot of formerly free content available for the low low price of $10.99 per year or so. It must not have worked, because a few months later all the content that used to be hidden behind the paywall was placed back on the free site.

    • Perfect example.

      Even though most would consider the NY Times to have some real premium content worthy of paying for, they couldn't make it work. How are any other news sites going to?

      http://www.nytimes.com/marketing/ts/index.html [nytimes.com]

  • by sjbe (173966) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:23AM (#29502427)

    The problem with news is that it is an experiential good [wikipedia.org] meaning you can't determine it's value in advance. You only know whether it was worth something AFTER you read it. So why would someone pay for news that might or might not be valuable? Usually because the source has a track record of providing good information (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc) or you have some other reason to suspect that the information might be valuable (information about a stock that is not widely known for instance). But the seller of information by definition cannot know what the information is worth to the buyer in advance. Generally the seller finds out it was worth something to the buyer if the buyer buys information from them again.

    There is money to be made in paying for content that can be had for free elsewhere. Apple's iTunes is proof enough of that. BUT it has to provide something you can't easily get from the free (even if illegal) alternatives. That could be convenience, it could be support, it could be complementary technology (iPod/Kindle), it could be reliability, it could be unusually insightful analysis, and it could be other things. Just copying the latest AP news has some value but not enough many people will pay for it directly.

    • by xzvf (924443) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:51AM (#29502627)
      Forcing people to pay for news will only increase the tendency for people to only read news they agree with. What will "save" the news industry is a shift away from creating the content to vetting content created by interested parties. While most newspapers (US) have had deteriorating quality since the Spanish-American war most in depth reporting has been done by interested parties. Groklaw is a good example of a single subject reporting. What good news aggregators should do is make it easy for people interested in SCO to find Groklaw, press releases by involved parties, and alternative views on the subject. Real "news" reform would force government, corporations and even non-profits to be more transparent in their dealings, making it easier for interested parties to research and create quality news. Tort reform to keep legal action from crushing individuals prior to judicial review (ie loser pays) would have significant impact too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by slim (1652)

      The problem with news is that it is an experiential good meaning you can't determine it's value in advance.

      Indeed, and while we get over this with periodicals by using past performance as a guide, I'd say that this only works if you look at whole edition of a newspaper as a bundle, rather than looking article by article.

      If I loved one Guardian article, I don't think that's a reliable indicator that I'll love some arbitrary Guardian article from today's edition.

      Rather, I've found in the past that a typical copy of the Guardian (GBP 1.20) contains a a bunch of headlines I can skim through to get a general idea of

  • OK news is another content type on the net that would benefit from micro-payments.

    Problem. Is there a micro-payment system out there that people would trust? NOPE.

    Every micro scheme I've seen to date want to effectively tax the user with huge fees. Or saddle it with some craptastic marketing angle.

    Until the governments put some trust behind the system like have for cash then micro payments are a no show.

    • by microbox (704317) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:40AM (#29502519)
      I sense a problem that can be solved with S****ISM (deleted as a proactive measure to stop the political-right from having a heart-attack). The BBC news is light-years ahead of anything in the USA. It's also politically independent, unlike state-run newspapers in Iran, China and Russia.

      Can you not see a simple solution when it's staring you in the face? Has Rupert Murdoch out-foxed you all? Create an independently funded public institution, with a mandate to "educate", "inform" and "entertain", and maybe the citizens of the USA wont score so poorly on survey questions such as "were WMDs found in Iraq".

      And your news content wont be beholden to advertising interests.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by maxume (22995)

        We could call it "PBS".

        • by blueZ3 (744446)

          Or NPR

          Seriously--we HAVE public-funded news here in the U.S.--it's just that nobody's interested in listening :-)

          • by dkleinsc (563838)

            Seriously--we HAVE public-funded news here in the U.S.--it's just that nobody's interested in listening :-)

            Not exactly nobody: NPR news shows get about 20-25 million listeners. PBS news shows (notably the Newshour) gets about 9 million viewers. Are those huge audiences? No, but they're not insignificant either.

      • Which ism are you talking about? Satanism? Stoicism? It ain't socialism because (a) it doesn't fit into your clue and (b) socialism doesn't "solve" problems.

        As others have said, there is the Public Broadcasting Service (TV) and National Public Radio, both of which are widely available to anyone who wants to tune into them. Despite being publicly funded, unfortunately both organizations tilt quite far in the same ideological direction.

        PS you appear to have an unhealthy fascination with Americans...this

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        The BBC news is light-years ahead of anything in the USA. It's also politically independent, unlike state-run newspapers in Iran, China and Russia.

        This should be +5 Funny, not +5 Insightful.

        The BBC is the left-wing propaganda arm of the British state; the only sense in which it's 'politically independent' is that it doesn't drop its left-wing slant even when a right-wing government is in power, though it does tone down a little.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by slim (1652)

          The BBC is the left-wing propaganda arm of the British state;

          You call that left wing? Jeez.

          it doesn't drop its left-wing slant even when a right-wing government is in power

          Since we haven't had a left wing government since 1983, it's pretty hard to make a judgement on that.

          What is clear, though, is that the BBC is entirely separate from the government. The government authorises the BBC to collect a TV licence fee, on condition that it sticks to its charter, and there the links end. There's plenty of people who kick up a stink at the slightest hint of the BBC becoming a government mouthpiece.

    • by argent (18001) <peterNO@SPAMslashdot.2006.taronga.com> on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:52AM (#29502631) Homepage Journal

      Maybe the newspapers could start charging Linden Dollars for stories? :)

  • Advertising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:32AM (#29502473) Homepage

    With a very few exceptions, news is worth what you can get advertisers to pay for access to the consumers. This has been true since the advent of television journalism half a century ago.

    It's the newspaper's own fault that craigs list took over classified advertising. They had the better part of a decade to get their acts together and get the ads online before craigs list existed. And it's their own fault that they still haven't learned the Google advertising lesson so that they're still serving worthless banner ads that many if not most of the browsers block.

    If they continue to refuse to embrace their new reality, they will continue to fail. Such is fate.

    • by petes_PoV (912422)

      news is worth what you can get advertisers to pay for access to the consumers

      This has dangerous implications. More people will watch entertaining news than factual news. They prefer "easy" news to abstract (but possibly of greater effect) news and will turn off if it's not presented as a series of soundbites: which makes in-depth coverage and analysis impossible.

      I can see a good case to say that informing citizens is as important as protecting them and therefore should be financed (if not controlled by) the state.

      • by Spazmania (174582)

        which makes in-depth analysis impossible.

        Perhaps you haven't noticed, but journalists are not known for their brilliant analytical skills regardless of funding. If they were analysts then covering the recent Washington DC metrorail crashes, at least one of them might have wondered why it's possible for a modern train safety system to see a train disappear from its sensors and not sound all kinds of alarms.

        A journalist's job is to report and they do best when they do just that: report the facts. When journal

        • by slim (1652)

          When journalists make insipid and banal attempts at commentary and analysis, they usually get it wrong.

          But a good newspaper's best part is the "Comment and Analysis" section. Otherwise all it does is paraphrase Reuters. Obviously a paper that does a bad job of it doesn't deserve to sell.

  • One problem is, of course, that often times you can only estimate the worth of an article after reading it.

    I wouldn't mind a system that tells me at the end of the month about the top 10 news sites I've read and allows me to say "yeah, they were good, give them some money". I know I have a few regular sites that I'd give some right now if it were as easy as a PayPal link.

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Trouble is, too few would pay after-the-fact. Unfortunately, donation-driven systems just don't work for something as costly as gathering news.

      • by Tom (822)

        It would not have to be voluntary. I don't mind a fixed amount of money I have to give to the media industry, as long as it satisfies two conditions:

        a) it is relative to the amount I actually consume (no TV = no TV fee)
        b) I can decide how it gets distributed, none of this GEMA crap (GEMA is the german institution that collects and distributes royalties, usually to the top acts)

        The technology exists.

        • by natehoy (1608657)

          Sorry, you've lost me. Must be time for my medications (sips coffee) ahh, better.

          If you can't determine the value of news until after you read it, isn't any system based on pay-by-value voluntary?

          Or are you referring to a system where you'd be obliged to pay, say, 10 cents per article you read no matter what the quality, but you were allowed to specify where the money went? So if you felt one article was worthless and another was worth 20 cents, you could pay the good writer 20 cents?

          If so, and given the

  • It is only when everyone is completely free to spread and comment on information that everyone will be free. Until then the people without will be subject to the filters of the people with.

    Suggestion for news aggregators: Quit trying to emulate television by attempting to force ads on your viewers.

  • by curmudgeon99 (1040054) <curmudgeon99NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @08:55AM (#29502657)
    Anyone like me who has published a paper newspaper knows that it is all about circulation. Every additional cent that you charge for a copy of your publication does not increase your profits. Instead, it decreases your circulation.

    Point in fact: when I lived in Omaha, Nebraska I bought a copy of the New York Times every day and read it on the treadmill.

    Now, I live in New York City where the New York Times costs $2.00 a copy. I have bought it about three times at that price.

    In short, micropayments is a sure way to send people somewhere else for the news.
  • I think that the main problem here is that they are attempting to charge directly for something that has ALWAYS been free -- news in all its current iterations is solely an ad-supported medium. People pay for newspapers, that is true, but the costs of subscription barely (if at all) covers the cost of cutting down trees, milling them into paper, putting ink on them, and then putting them on trucks to deliver to front doors across the world. The costs associated with the actual journalism part has ALWAYS bee
    • With costs distributed to both advertisers AND readers, the paper has to satisfy both. When only advertisers pay, the paper no longer serves YOU, it serves a corporation only. Looking at papers where this already occurs reveals they suck.
  • While a free site will get a lot of visitors (most of whom are merely casual browser types) as soon as they start charging even the slightest amount you can expect their readership to fall off dramatically. Why is that?

    Well most people regard news as just another form of entertainment - we know this, as the most popular news programmes on TV are not the authoritative ones that tell us important information about events that will affect us. The one's that get the biggest audiances are the "populist" news p

    • by slim (1652)

      While a free site will get a lot of visitors (most of whom are merely casual browser types) as soon as they start charging even the slightest amount you can expect their readership to fall off dramatically. Why is that?

      I see you've been reading Chris Anderson :)

      It's an absolutely valid point. But the other side of the coin is that when you charge even the slightest amount, and your readership drops, the readers who remain are demonstrably committed to your subject matter. Advertisers love that kind of audience. If you sell handlebars, would you rather pay $1000 to reach 100,000 web users who skim past bikemag.com for free, or $1000 to reach 10,000 web users who are so into bikes that they pay $1/month for premium access t

  • But I'm pretty sure of one thing: It doesn't mean charging people fractions of a cent to read a news story, no matter how sophisticated the process.'

    Well I'm pretty sure that this is exactly what micropayments are for.

  • 1. Report accurately on poignant world events, or specialist news which is well researched and factually accurate.
    2. Increase readership.
    3. Charge more for advertising space.
    4. ...
  • Is there a reason why advertising doesn't pay for the content? What am I missing here?
  • Being able to pick tv channels is a Micropayments system that I want to see.
    I should I be forced to pay for the disney channel carp just to get ESPN?
    I can't I get some channels that are only on comcarp at this time on sat tv? I want to pay for CLTV and have it on my direct tv system.
    Why does comcarp cable put fox movie channel in the sport pack?

  • Considering (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dgun (1056422) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @09:07AM (#29502791) Homepage
    The general public doesn&#226;&#8364;(TM)t put any value on the source of their 'news'. In other words, a twitter post is just as good as something from the AP. This is partially due, IMO, to shitty poor journalism, so little time and effort is spent investigating and digging for original content nowadays. Rather, today 'journalists' slap together a handful of talking points and use other news organization's reports as sources. Journalism today has by and large become a cycle of shit, thanks in large part to the freak show circus of cable 'news'.

    So, I don't see myself paying Google for the same quality of 'news' I can get for free from any random jerk's blog.
    • Re:Considering (Score:4, Insightful)

      by blueZ3 (744446) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @09:51AM (#29503263) Homepage

      Think about this: when a reporter covers an area that you're an expert in, how much do they get wrong? For instance, if you know a lot about computers, how often do you hear a reporter completely misrepresent something or get some key fact exactly backwards? Now extrapolate that to EVERY area of expertise (except possibly sports) and determine how reliable journalism is. Unless there's a video of the actual event (and I mean a video as it happens, not Bob from the Washington Bureau shaking his head as the ambulances drive away) you can pretty much count on getting half the facts, badly distorted, and intentionally slanted to fit the reporter's (or their editor's) bias.

      News has ALWAYS been this way--it's just that you're noticing it more. About 35 years ago I had an article written about me in the local paper. It was filled with "direct quotes" of things that I never said, contained about six factual errors in two paragraphs, and was essentially completely divorced from the reality of what had happened.

      • by dgun (1056422)
        I mostly agree. However, there has been a marked decline in quality over the years also.

        In particular, the casual mixing of commentary and news is troubling.

        The increase in the number of overall news sources, combined with the trend of fewer locally owned newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations has done real damage, IMO.
  • They won't of course, and this will be a good thing: FINALLY Yahoo will stop feeding me their noisome bullshit they call "news". I go there for email. I don't care about the biggest hamburger of all time, or what the latest scoop is on the Hollywood douchebag du jour. Likely, "news" will then become a feature of the "Premier" or paid account on Yahoo, which is FINE BY ME. Good grief, I could vomit with all the details I've been bombarded about Jon and Kate, and I don't even watch the damn show or have sligh
  • The news corporations have reduced their news products to he/she said gossip.

    The journalism that people used to buy in newspapers every day (sometimes twice a day) was the report of a person finding the actual facts and telling the actual story. The modern version, especially (but not at all exclusively) on TV, is the report of a person collecting different sides of an argument, telling what each arguer said (and editing them to look just as reasonable on each side). Radio news isn't even that: it's pure co

  • by v(*_*)vvvv (233078) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @10:00AM (#29503365)

    For one simple reason, micropayments as they are debated here will never work.

    When the product is too cheap, then the time and effort buying the product is the true cost to the buyer.

    In other words, after a certain point, it just has to be free, or it simply isn't worth it.

    What's more, if the seller doesn't value their product enough to charge a non-micro amount for it, then what they are doing is failing to make a value proposition, which is the essence of a business transaction.

    No one will pay pennies for something worth pennies.

    Newspapers are already cheap, but they are not free. But they aren't micro-priced either. Whether it is buying a paper at the stand or subscribing months at a time, there is a valid value proposition there.

    On-line media has yet to find that value proposition. Without that proposition, debating the technical details concerning how payments will be made is getting waaaaaaaaaaaaaay ahead of yourself.

  • More details (Score:3, Informative)

    by sootman (158191) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @10:18AM (#29503585) Homepage Journal

    For those interested in more detail about the economics and psychology behind Clay's theory that micropayments will never work, I recommend this earlier piece from 2000. [openp2p.com] Nine years later, we still haven't seen a viable micropayment system (where "micro" = 25 cents or less) and I don't think that will change.

    ...micropayments would still seem to have an advantage over larger payments, since the cost of the transaction is so low. Who could haggle over a penny's worth of content? After all, people routinely leave extra pennies in a jar by the cashier. Surely amounts this small makes valuing a micropayment transaction effortless?

    Here again micropayments create a double-standard. One cannot tell users that they need to place a monetary value on something while also suggesting that the fee charged is functionally zero. This creates confusion - if the message to the user is that paying a penny for something makes it effectively free, then why isn't it actually free? Alternatively, if the user is being forced to assent to a debit, how can they behave as if they are not spending money?

    Beneath a certain price, goods or services become harder to value, not easier, because the X for Y comparison becomes more confusing, not less. Users have no trouble deciding whether a $1 newspaper is worthwhile - did it interest you, did it keep you from getting bored, did reading it let you sound up to date - but how could you decide whether each part of the newspaper is worth a penny?

    Was each of 100 individual stories in the newspaper worth a penny, even though you didn't read all of them? Was each of the 25 stories you read worth 4 cents apiece? If you read a story halfway through, was it worth half what a full story was worth? And so on.

    When you disaggregate a newspaper, it becomes harder to value, not easier. By accepting that different people will find different things interesting, and by rolling all of those things together, a newspaper achieves what micropayments cannot: clarity in pricing.

    The very micro-ness of micropayments makes them confusing. At the very least, users will be persistently puzzled over the conflicting messages of "This is worth so much you have to decide whether to buy it or not" and "This is worth so little that it has virtually no cost to you."...

    Imagine you are moving and need to buy cardboard boxes. Now you could go and measure the height, width, and depth of every object in your house - every book, every fork, every shoe - and then create 3D models of how these objects could be most densely packed into cardboard boxes, and only then buy the actual boxes. This would allow you to use the minimum number of boxes.

    But you don't care about cardboard boxes, you care about moving, so spending time and effort to calculate the exact number of boxes conserves boxes but wastes time. Furthermore, you know that having one box too many is not nearly as bad as having one box too few, so you will be willing to guess how many boxes you will need, and then pad the number.

    For low-cost items, in other words, you are willing to overpay for cheap resources, in order to have a system that maximizes other, more important, preferences. Micropayment systems, by contrast, typically treat cheap resources (content, cycles, disk) as precious commodities, while treating the user's time as if were so abundant as to be free.

  • by PhunkySchtuff (208108) <kai@nOspaM.automatica.com.au> on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @10:20AM (#29503611) Homepage

    As usual, what will end up happening will be something between the two extremes.

    Not every news site will be able to, or even want to go with a paid subscription model. Some sites that are charging for content at present, such as the WSJ, will continue to do so. Quite a few more will make the shift to paid access, only some of these will be successful in doing so, some will fold and the rest will go back to the present model of advertising.

    What people will see real value in, and will be accepting of paying for is opinion, insight and thought. Current events are raw data - they happen and they're reported as-is. Where the value lies is turning that raw data into information and this is what people will pay for. As an example, anyone can walk into the Australian Bureau of Statistics and get raw import/export data for commodities. There is no value in someone else simply republishing these statistics. What there is value in is looking at the series over time, analysing the data with your knowledge of the industry, saying why things happened in the past and what they're likely to do in the future. People will pay a lot of money for this kind of information.

  • Another solution.

    Provide an on-line pass with the primary subscription to your local paper. Once you sign on to your local paper's internet site, you receive a cookie that permits you to access any other on-line content of the consortium for the day.

    The papers get a win by increasing local readership and circulation. You don't have to worry about micro-payments. If you don't subscribe to the local paper, you're left with micro-payments to access major papers content.

  • Wrong argument (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thethibs (882667) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @11:18AM (#29504455) Homepage

    It's worth noting that newspapers don't do radio news and they don't do television news. Each medium ultimately finds its own business model.

    Paper, radio, TV news content is paid for by advertising.

    The shape of internet news is already evident. The only thing missing is blog sites that start bringing in enough revenue to put journalists and researchers on staff. Suppose HubPages or Blogger decided to set up a section for hard, fact-checked news and well-respected columnists. The ad rate in this section would climb fast. Positive feedback and competition does the rest.

  • I have an idea... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dreadneck (982170) on Tuesday September 22, 2009 @11:26AM (#29504591)

    If only the corporate media and big ISPs could find a way to lock down the internet and control access to and dissemination of information and content... Yeah, that's the ticket!

    Am I the only one who sees this as yet another argument by corporate media and big ISPs as to why they need to become the gatekeepers of the internet?

    I may be wrong, but I see this as just another salvo in the war against net neutrality.

It seems that more and more mathematicians are using a new, high level language named "research student".

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