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 With circulation generally falling, a number of newspapers have been trying to create alternative revenue streams by selling their content online. I was wondering what you all thought of this.

The 'expert' opinion I've seen so far seems to suggest that people are very reluctant to pay for online content unless it is unique and has a high level of perceived value, for example with the Financial Times. But with an ever expanding 'web' out there, is there value in providing a delineated universe in which reasonable quality can be assured?

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

When newspapers were first developed, they were so expensive to produce that only the wealthy could afford them. Ben Franklin, who certainly knew the economics of printing, published almanacs and bibles and primers precisely because they could have extended print runs. The set-up costs– literally setting the type in frames– were the labor expense, not inking and pressing, which could be done by the journeyman. Setting new type every day was simply not profitable. The other virtue of almanacs and primers and bibles was that could reuse the content; the pages left over from one edition could be literally recycled. (If you look at the successive editions of Poor Richard's Almanac you find that Franklin found a way to put "old" pages between new ones.) The steam press and mechanical paper-making changed everything by making it 100 times less expensive to print a page. Adding mechanical compositors made it possible to have a penny press. Pulitzer, like Henry Ford, made his fortune by shaving costs relentlessly; he also had the wit to be the first to cater to the tastes of people who could not yet afford front parlors, those read their "news" while riding the trolley to and from work. The difficulty with selling "online" content is that "the news" is not the product that people have ever paid for; what they have paid for - over the last two centuries - was the paper and ink. The "news" was what they got for free. What the newspaper publishers quickly discovered is that they needed to add "features" - crosswords, sweepstakes, advice columns - if they wanted people to buy more and more papers. The only segment of online publishing that has been consistently profitable on its own has been "feature" publishing - i.e. porn.P.S. People have paid for and continue to pay for "financial news" - horse race odds and results and the stock ticker - but that news was truly timely and was always delivered with a proprietary delivery system. But, even there, the premium paid for pure "news" has shrunk to almost nothing; and the financial publishers seem to be resorting to more and more features courtesy of the info babes. The newspaper chains found themselves doing the same thing 50 years ago; and they soon found themselves making more money from the ads for Mary Tyler Moore local TV news than from their print runs of AP dispatches from Karachi.


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