Paywalls, niche, mass and “general interest”

Here are two posts for anyone at all intrigued by what kind of income keeps journalism – and particularly journalism institutions – in business.

  • Clay Shirky on payment “threshold” schemes which are becoming more and more common in the US, particularly since the New York Times porous paywall looks as if it’s delivering on at least one aim of preserving the online audience while collecting some revenue from committed online users. Whether that’s enough revenue – Shirky thinks not – is another question.
  • Frederic Filloux on what we don’t yet know about the NYT scheme and on the striking price rises just announced by both the NYT and the Financial Times for their print editions. Filloux sees this, rightly I’m sure, as evidence of both titles trying to drive their readers online.

But if papers like the FT and NYT do succeed both in pushing them online and making enough money out of them (and these are big “ifs”)…how will they make enough money? The thrust of Shirky’s essay is to ask if the ways in which people will pay for online journalism will eventually change the shape of the bundles of journalism we are used to – and, by extension, alter the shape of the institutions which produce that journalism. Both Shirky and Filloux seem to think that there may be some income to support some journalism online in the future. But that one thing it won’t support is the large, general interest publication which collects together many different readerships, both niche and mass and welds them into a business model.


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