A quick update on some new stuff which has emerged about both paywalls for news and tablet devices such as the iPad.
Most of these developments are promising. Not in the sense that the problems of a sustainable business model for news has been found, but in the sense that experiments – which are they key to it all – reveal a few successes and thus a few clues to what might work.
- The New York Times porous paywall or paygate continues to show signs of promise. The NYT’s assistant managing editor Jim Roberts told the World Editors Forum in Vienna that overall visitor numbers to the site had even grown a little and that their aim for a “frictionless” metered system which makes frequent users pay had largely been realised. (So it should have been: Roberts revealed that the NYT had worked for 14 months on the details of the pay system after the decision had been made). Accepting the principle that the paywall is not round all content allows tactical decisions: when a severe storm threatened New York recently, the paper put everything it was doing on the story outside the wall.
- PaidContent has helpfully graphed the progress of the two Timeses, New York and London (£). The former is porous and hybrid, the latter makes the reader pay for anything and everything. PaidContent kindly says that the NYT’s superior performance so far is probably down to the larger size of its market.
- Keep an eye on the online income of the Atlantic, which seems to have found a powerful quality journalism formula on a digital platform. Some clues as to how the money is being made from it here.
- Given the eye-popping sales of the iPad, people are inclined to wonder out loud if tablets will “save” journalism. Wrong question. No platform or technology will “save” anything which depends so completely on the content and how good or bad it is. But tablets point to two things which are important. They are generating vast amounts of data about what people will pay for. And they are making digital platforms steadily more and more user-friendly. There’s no reason why the process should stop: screens will gradually get easier on the eye, tablets will get thinner, be able to bend or be hinged and touch screens will refine. The more attractive the experience and the content, the higher the chance that in time content will generate revenue.