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Friday, 16 October 2009

What is the future of paid for content?

It was reported this week that the economic downturn has dramatically hastened people to switch their media purchasing behaviour. In place of paid for paper and magazine purchases people are turning to online news for their fix begging the question, what is the future of paid for content?

The print media is going through a rather protracted period of angst around the subject of their long term survival and how best to extract value from the original content they produce. As Nick Crocker pointed out last week in Mashable there is a lot the print media has to learn from the music industry. The printed media industry is increasingly sticking to their guns, becoming more litigious over the years and without (up until recently) really shaping or engaging with the future production and distribution models of paid for content, in much the same way as the music industry has for the past decade or so. Their failure has been in identifying what is of greatest value to readers. It is conveniently forgotten that shortly after Radiohead released 'In Rainbows' as part of a 'pay as much as you want' model, that they followed up with a retail release of the album through XL Recordings and have gone on to sell over a million copies worldwide. This was a brilliant piece of marketing and PR, backed up with sound commercial sense, an innovative model that should be a bench mark for the thinking around the packaging of content.

If the traditional media are to have similar successes they need to be similarly innovative. The media moguls - led by Rupert Murdoch of course - have been increasingly looking at ‘paid for’ as the new way. However some of the echoes of the music industry have been heard in recent days with Murdoch decrying search engines and in particular Google for stealing News Corps' content. This sounds more like a man fiddling while Rome burns than one that’s engaging with the new world. The reality is that over the past few years the news industry has got rid of highly qualified, quality journalists and replaced them with syndicated content and bulked out lifestyle pieces. That has resulted in original content being commoditised and in the process hugely devalued.

The industry does appear to be embracing Murdoch's idea of pay walls based along segmented lines. It seems like a good experiment and should tell the industry a lot about their customers' habits. The trick will be not to introduce it on a blanket basis and thereby alienate the whole market in one fell swoop. If that happens people will switch off and find an alternative. It's never been easier to switch allegiance, so the industry needs to tread carefully.

Crispin Heath
Head of Digital

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