There’s a new great post by Clay Shirky titled “Newspapers, Paywalls, and Core Users” that investigates the metered paywall that the NY Times and others have deployed to stem shrinking profits. As he’s talked about before Clay discusses the bundling of desperate content that a newspaper represents and the tough reality of unbundled content on the internet; where Dear Abbey, horoscopes and crossword puzzels are more popular than investigative journalism. The metered paywall gives national papers the ability to attract a large audience interested in a few things and still charge hardcore users. Currently there are two successful models to charge people for media content: mass, where you go for that largest possible audience and advertisers who want to reach them and niche, where you carefully define your audience and advertisers who need a very specific demographic. Combining the two is the metered paywall where you get a massive audience and a readily identified hardcore group willing to pay.
Clay goes on to say:
This is new territory for mainstream papers, who have always had head count rather than engagement as their principal business metric. Celebrities behaving badly always drive page-views through the roof, but those readers will be anything but committed. Meanwhile, the people who hit the threshold and then hand over money are, almost by definition, people who regard the paper not just as an occasional source of interesting articles, but as an essential institution, one whose continued existence is vital no matter what today’s offerings are.
Unfortunately this is not a good solution for smaller papers because “they produce so little original content.”
So, is there a mass market for good journalism?
There has never been a mass market for good journalism in this country. What there used to be was a mass market for print ads, coupled with a mass market for a physical bundle of entertainment, opinion, and information; these were tied to an institutional agreement to subsidize a modicum of real journalism.
The metered paywall appears to solve this problem.