Information wants to be free, reporters want to be paid, Part 4


Well, what do you know? The cover story in the latest edition of Time magazine is “How to Save Your NEWSPAPER: A Modest Proposal,” penned by former Time managing editor Walter Isaacson.

It is the latest entry to our ongoing navel gazing over the future business model of newspapers and the never-ending but sometimes-fruitless quest for profits.

Like others before, Isaacson suggests newspapers, magazines, bloggers, citizen journalists, garage bands, movie makers and others in the intellectual property biz might try something like the iTunes model or something akin to E-Z Pass used on toll roads.

“Newspapers and magazines traditionally have had three revenue sources: newsstand sales, subscriptions and advertising,” Isaacson writes. “The new business model relies only on the last of these. That makes for a wobbly stool even when the one leg is strong. When it weakens — as countless publishers have seen happen as a result of the recession — the stool can't possibly stand.”

(Now where have I heard that three-legged stool analogy before?)

Isaacson doubts people browsing for a given story would be willing to buy a subscription online, but might be willing to make micropayments if there were an easy way to do so.

He speculates, “Under a micropayment system, a newspaper might decide to charge a nickel for an article or a dime for that day's full edition or $2 for a month's worth of Web access. Some surfers would balk, but I suspect most would merrily click through if it were cheap and easy enough.”

Might be better than the current model in which competing newspapers are racing each other to the poorhouse in search of a profitable business model.

Who’ll be the first to try?