Alan D. Mutter writes Reflections of a Newsosaur, where, for the reader’s benefit, he combines his experience in Silicon Valley with that of his time spent at newspapers. As such, he’s a good person to consider how publishers can make money online, or if they can.
He offers this quick checklist:
1. You cannot charge for such commoditized content as world, national, business, sports and entertainment news.
2. You might be able to charge for local coverage, if it is sufficiently intensive, comprehensive and exclusive to make to make it required reading for residents of the targeted community.
3. In the business-to-business realm, you probably can charge users for exclusive information that helps them make money, avoid losing money or, ideally, both at the same time.
4. You probably can charge consumers for two things: (a) exclusive entertainment content and (b) authoritative information that helps them hang on to more of their money.
I think this is a pretty tight look at the topic. Exclusive content, especially in an area that others rely on to do their own jobs or manage their own money, is worth paying for/subscribing to, now as before. But such content is not common. It’s rare.
The online monetization conundrum isn’t about electrons versus print at all. The issue is the same as it ever was–the publisher with the best, most relevant and entertaining content wins. And that victory won’t be delivered by paid subscribers alone, but through a mix of revenue streams that might include semi-annual fund drives, selling merchandise like books or t-shirts, wise use of search and display advertising and sponsored events or conferences.