Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Can Facebook beat back the fake news in Ireland’s upcoming vote on abortion?
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
May 26, 2009, 3:34 p.m.

Could one answer to paid content be found in a bottle of water?

waterAccording to the Financial Times:

“When people really want or need something, they will pay for it, one way or another. If today’s publishers cannot convince their readers to do so, they will be overtaken by others that can.”

Setting aside the “should we or shouldn’t we?” questions biting at the ankles of Paid Content, let’s stipulate, for the moment, that eventually we’ll all pay in some way for news content. It’s a big assumption, currently untested in a major market. But making that assumption prompts what, I think, is a more interesting question:

Is news content gasoline, or is it bottled water?

That is, is online news a necessary commodity that people will begrudgingly pay for, because they have to, or is it a necessary commodity that’s packaged in a way that finds a happy and willing customer base?

The growth of bottled water in the past decade — a commodity available free pretty much everywhere in the developed world — is the story of consumers willingly shelling out real dollars in exchange for convenience and branding. Can the news industry — which also sells a largely commoditized product — learn anything from the success of Aquafina and its ilk? Why is it that consumers cheerfully pay more for thirst-quenchers than we do for the fuel that moves our vehicles and our economy?

Such a freeing of virtual pocket-change has been suggested within the news industry to be an iTunes challenge: If people will pay a buck for a song, surely they’ll pay a few pennies for the sweat and shoe-leather of America’s newsrooms.

But news, like gas and water both, is a consumable: Once it’s used, it’s used. Unlike a song on iTunes, yesterday’s news report is not a moment to be savored over and over throughout the years. Which is why the bottle water example is so intriguing.

Presumably, the same people buying water by the half-liter are spending the same disposable income on the latest digital Green Day single. Yet, almost universally, when asked, they say they won’t pay for digital news content at any price.

So what have Pepsi and Coke — both huge water-bottlers — figured out about selling packaged commodities that the collective minds of the newspaper industry have not? How do you sell something when so much of it is being given away for free?

POSTED     May 26, 2009, 3:34 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 45,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Can Facebook beat back the fake news in Ireland’s upcoming vote on abortion?
Plus: What people who like fact-checking are like, a new “digital deception” newsletter, and Facebook expands its fact-checking partnerships beyond the West.
R Vision, a digital news outlet by and for Rohingya people, aims to shed light on crisis
R Vision is run entirely by an ethnic Rohingya staff of about 25 and uses local citizen journalists to get news out from areas where media is denied access.
Should you design for addiction or for loyalty?
That depends on whether you want users or an audience.