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Friday, December 14, 2012

Re: The Internet Feels Like a Ghost Town

Posted by on Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 8:43 AM

I've been noticing the same thing, and with all of Paul's very good caveats included, here's my theory:

There are a lot fewer working journalists than when the Internet began. Because of the Internet. (And a lot of other things, too, but let's just keep it simple this early in the morning.)

So: If you disrupt the livelihoods of the best creators of urgent, original content, then until something replaces them you are left with a giant content-sharing machine without as much interesting, non-derivative stuff to share.


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theophrastus 1
Posted by theophrastus on December 14, 2012 at 8:59 AM · Report this
Ah Eli, and there's the rub. People want content and lots of it but they don't want to pay for it. More and more people will read anything and not question where the information came from, who wrote it, or even why it was written.

It is hard for those of us who do our due diligence to see others throw up any nonsense and get taken seriously.

I actually blame 24-hour cable for bringing this on as they had hours to fill and fill it they did.
Posted by westello on December 14, 2012 at 9:02 AM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 3
Best? Really? Or maybe before the internet you didn't need to be all that good as long as you could get an old white man to like you and pay you to write.

Hubris is the reason old media died. Learn from that.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on December 14, 2012 at 9:10 AM · Report this
Internet plus media being commoditized during a global recession that hurried disinvestment and stifled the paywall experiment. Here's David Carr summing up the latest developments. Pasted in full because paywall:
Pay Wall Push: Why Newspapers Are Hopping Over the Picket Fence
When The Wall Street Journal broke the news that The Washington Post was likely to start charging for online content sometime next year, it should not have come as a surprise, but it did.

The shock had something to do with the certainty that Donald Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Company, has always displayed on the subject. He has long had serious reservations about putting the work of his company’s journalists behind a wall. According to GigaOm, he explained it in the following way to Walter Isaacson at an Aspen Institute event:

"The New York Times or Wall Street Journal … can say we’re going to charge, but we’re not going to charge you if you subscribe to the newspaper. The Washington Post circulates in print only around Washington, D.C., but way over 90 percent — I think over 95 percent of our Internet audience is outside Washington, D.C. We can’t offer you that print or online choice. So, the pay model would work very differently for us."

But now The Post is contemplating a model in which the homepage and section fronts will be free, but the rest will require a subscription, which is a pretty nifty way to allow for snacking while hoping that people stick around to eat.

So what changed? Everything and nothing.

The Post, give or take elections, is still a regional business. But the newspaper has been working the cost side of the ledger relentlessly and reaching diminishing returns. New revenue had to become part of the picture at some point.

The Post is hardly alone. As Poynter suggested on Friday: “More than 360 United States papers will charge for digital content by the end of the year, says News & Tech, including Gannett, Tribune, MediaNews, Media General papers now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and of course The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Coming next year are E.W. Scripps, McClatchy and others.”

So, as newspapers all hold hands and begin to erect gated communities, will there be a new stability? Hardly.

What is under way is a reset. The trend in ad revenue in the newspaper industry is breathtaking — see a very scary chart here from Alan D. Mutter — and inexorable. The now hoary question of what part of the crater is cyclical, meaning temporary, and what part is secular, meaning a permanent disruption, has been settled. The advertising business is not coming back and there is every reason to believe that in the years ahead the shrinking will continue apace.

The subscription model represents a moment of truth for publishers, who are owning up to the fact that they will be operating as smaller businesses, with smaller audiences. Charging the most loyal, motivated readers is way of a battening down the hatches and saying, “Let’s see what kind of newsgathering our tribe of readers will support.” (It has the ancillary benefit of protecting legacy circulation because people who pay for print feel less like suckers and generally receive digital as a bolt-on to their subscription.)

Much has been made of the success of The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, but generalizing the results of business newspapers that publish actionable information (and can often be expensed) is probably not a good idea. For different reasons, The New York Times’s positive experience with online subscriptions is probably not one that will scale across the industry. As a national newspaper with international resources, The Times is fishing in a pool of many millions of potential readers, so the fact over a half a million of that audience has opted in is a good sign for the organization, but not necessarily for the industry.

Mr. Graham noted that The Boston Globe, the former home of the incoming Post editor Martin Baron and a high-quality publication, had just 25,000 people sign up. That is a scary low number. But it is a place to begin.

Wall Street, not much of a fan of newspaper companies in the last few years, is lapping up the pay-to-play strategy. After years of decline, share prices of publicly traded newspapers are steady or up slightly, as Rich Edmonds pointed out.

One of the benefits of subscriptions that is only beginning to be explored is the more valuable readership they create. Yes, on the Internet, aggregators can easily reproduce the product that took hard work and great expense to create, but the customers who have opted in with cash money to read a site cannot be so easily replicated.

Behind the pay wall is a more loyal customer, one that a publisher has a deeper relationship with and can sell to at a premium. It is, in a sense, a renewal of the now-ancient magazine concept of “wantedness.” Magazines charged more for their customers because they had chosen to subscribe. And you can’t buy the audience that paid to read, say,, anywhere but

It’s been a weird evolution to watch. Pay walls, long the bête noir of evangelists of a free and open Internet, are almost sexy right now.

Many of the experiments — and that’s really what they are — are bound to have brutal results. On a practical level, a subscription is both a convenience charge and a measure of the size of the core following for a given publication on the Web.

If consumers visit your site often enough and bump into a wall for content they wanted to read, some portion of them are going to succumb and hand over their credit card data. That’s part of the reason the experiment with The Daily failed. You can’t stumble across content in an app, and no one is going to pay for what they don’t know they are missing.

Those who do not have compelling content, or are merely reproducing commodity information — that is, information that can easily be found elsewhere — are not going to generate much traction. In an odd way, it is a return to the days of multiple newspapers in the same market.

It is going be a dogfight for the small number of consumers who are willing to pay. Many newspapers, crippled by years of disinvestment, will not be able to make a compelling argument that they are providing something worth paying for. And life inside that sort of gated community could get mighty lonely.…
Posted by gloomy gus on December 14, 2012 at 9:31 AM · Report this
VelhoSorriso 5
@ gloomy gus: Thanks for the Carr article. Sobering.
Posted by VelhoSorriso on December 14, 2012 at 9:51 AM · Report this
Paul Constant 6
It's an interesting point, Eli, but I'm not just talking about news. I'm also talking about interesting non-news essays, websites that are art projects, bloggers becoming personalities, interesting outlets for fiction. Pretty much all of it.
Posted by Paul Constant http:// on December 14, 2012 at 10:10 AM · Report this
Sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of my Reddit.
Posted by K on December 14, 2012 at 10:47 AM · Report this
old guy is old.
Posted by mattw on December 14, 2012 at 2:09 PM · Report this
I admit I don't know much about the subject. I don't have the money or the living-room-floor-space to get all the magazines I would want to read, so I try to find what I can, online, for free. I don't mind having ad space take up some of the page, just like it does in the magazine or newspaper. I always thought the ad space was what really paid the overhead. When I was growing up, the frenzy was recycling and saving the trees; years later, I am working at a magazine and half the printing staff gets laid off.
The reading public that will take a dumb vanity blog over real writing and content, wasn't your demographic anyway. What I *would* like, is some form of 'yahoo news' or something, that offered thumbnail links to the GOOD stuff there is, out there. xoxo
Posted by Jane 51601 on December 15, 2012 at 5:09 AM · Report this

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