Times To Pay The Price

March 28, 2011 § 3 Comments

Updated: March 28, 2011 8:12 p.m.
And so the experiment begins, with traditional print journalists heaving a sigh of relief and online folks raising an eyebrow or two while posting away jauntily on their blogs with the words “failure” and “mistake.”

Today, the NYTimes website unveiled a small box in the upper right corner entitled “Digital Subscriptions” that has the potential to re-energize what some have referred to as  a sinking paper ship known as the newspaper.  But will people go for it?

That question alone has been the subject of  intense conversation between professional, amateur and even journalists in training (such as myself) at some point or another, touching upon the industry’s ability to charge an audience for what it’s been able to get for free.

But whether the move spells out success or doom for the media giant is yet to be seen.

What we do know is this: it wouldn’t be the first time that a newspaper has evoked a pay wall onto its online twin (The Wall Street Journal claims the prize for largest newspaper to initiate and sustain a pay wall), nor is  it even the first attempt by the Times itself.

Indeed, the Times briefly flirted with the idea of monetizing their online content with TimesSelect only to ditch the plan two years later in 2007. Up until today,  readers were given unbridled access to any of the Times articles written post 1980.  The site’s general manager at the time had this to say on the decision to eliminate what had brought in $10 million a year for the company:

“We now believe by opening up all our content and unleashing what will be millions and millions of new documents, combined with phenomenal growth, that that will create a revenue stream that will more than exceed the subscription revenue.” (Vivian Schiller)

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as the Times continues to bleed red and viewers  have much more to choose from now than they did back in ’07 –both for free and online.

The wall has already dominated the blogosphere with some supporters like  The Onion who called  it a “bold business move” and  readers of Business Insider affirming the wall’s future success. But the web also hosts the paper’s ‘fare’ share of wall naysayers like The Street who call it “the dumbest of this week’s dumbest.”

Unsurprisingly,  sites such as this one take a stronger stance on the inadequacies of the wall with instructions on how to evade it entirely. (If anyone tries it, do tell me how it goes. I am very interested in seeing if the web gods really are all powerful–even in the likes of the Sulzbergers). PCWorld does a great job at breaking the terms of the pay wall down for size with their post here.

But while many are anxious to see just how porous or impervious this pay wall is, I for one am dreading the day that I see the pay wall in all it’s digital brick-ish glory upon hitting my 21st article (something that will occur in probably less than a week’s time).

As a broke (journalism) college student, paying that extra $7.40 a week just isn’t an option.

So, food for thought: how many of you are opening your wallets for an online subscription and how many of you are not ready just yet to throw in the proverbial towel?

Farewell 2010, Google-Style.

December 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

zeitgeist |ˈtsītˌgīst; ˈzīt-|noun [in sing. ]: the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time. ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from German Zeitgeist, from Zeit ‘time’ + Geist ‘spirit.’

In under three minutes, Google has managed to sum up the year while promoting its bevy of online services and products. Leave it to Google to multitask!

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

December 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Move on over to irrelevancy, New York Times Co.

Well perhaps not to irrelevancy, but to the corner where all the other slightly less relevant companies sit.

That’s right fellow media junkies, NYT Co. is no longer a crown jewel of the S&P 500, which lists the top 500 American companies (though it’s not strictly a U.S. list as some multinational companies also make up the S&P). According to Mashable, the New York Times Co. is out and Netflix is in.

Netflix, the Blockbuster-esque company that first made strides with its video rental services via postal mail, has since expanded to the popular option of video-streaming which requires no red paper envelopes. Other video-streaming companies like Hulu are also cashing in on the convenience of the web.

The New York Times will now be on the S&P MidCap 400, which lists the median range of US stocks. It’s not the slums, but it’s not the elite either, and for a company that has built its reputation as the finest paper in the U.S., it’s a hard economic reality to swallow.

The Times is also set to unroll its paywall on its http://www.nytimes.com site sometime within the next few months. Forbes recently reported that the Times is serious about its paywall and is taking a Financial Times approach to the overhaul as opposed to WSJ’s porous wall where users can access articles for free via a quick google search.

I remember first reading about the Times paywall on its website last January with a bit of incredulousness. Even as someone who plans to go into the industry in the next couple of years, the idea of being charged for the NYTimes bothered me.

There’s no doubt that my life would be different as a j-school student if I didn’t have access to the Times. It was the first newspaper I started to follow on a consistent basis and it set off my growing love affair for print, which has since expanded to other major dailies. But as a college student, the idea of paying hundreds a year for a subscription really really hurts. It not only hurts, but I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ll be able to actually afford the Times.

I shiver in anticipation as I await for more details to roll out. But for now, I’m pretty much at the mercy of the Times. Their sweet, no-longer-free, high quality, journalistic mercy.

So, what say you, fellow blogosphere warriors–will you be shelling out some cash for the Times online? Do any of you subscribe to the Times in print and will you continue to do so?

Television Without the Box: Ads Galore

November 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

With Google TV and Apple already making their rounds on the online television circuit, a report from Turner Broadcasting that claims web viewers may be willing to watch even more ads online is drumming up support for television without the television.

The report found that online viewers may be willing to sit through ads comparable to that of current television ads (read: a half hour of NBC’s “Community” actually breaks down to a 23 minute episode with the remaining seven minutes left for 30 seconds+ ads).

Currently, Hulu viewers are accustomed to much less, watching that same 23 minute episode with four to five 15-30 seconds breaks–totaling a whopping minute and a half of ads. Viewers on Hulu also have the option of watching a minute-long trailer or long-form commercial first and bypass the 15-30 seconds breaks entirely for an uninterrupted viewing experience.

The plan? Pad online streams with so many ads that its simply television online. Really? Moving backwards much?

Granted that online viewing still has its limitations, the idea of online streams simply becoming jam-packed with ads will still not bode well with online viewers. The flexibility of the web is still hampered by traditional media, with some shows running on a delayed posting date in conjunction with broadcast agreements (e.g. popular shows like Fox’s “House” is posted 7 days after the original broadcast).

And we still haven’t seen anything comparable to a 6 o’clock news show online that doesn’t originate from a network. [And even so, how many times will you go online to watch Nightly News with Brian Williams the DAY AFTER the original broadcast? It’s old news made even older.]

But for now, it’s good news for those hoping to squeeze the nickels and dime out of online viewers, who, for the most part–don’t really pay attention to ads. At least I don’t. The best part of watching House online, even if it’s a week later, is being able to quickly toggle to my Facebook page while some Toyota ad blares on in the background. Is it just a case of the dollar-dime rule, this time applied to television and the web instead of print and the web?

The Downside to the Buzz: Google's Failed Attempt at Popularity

November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

In 2009, Myspace was found to be home to thousands of sex offenders as well as aspiring musical bands. [No worries, they’ve since moved to Facebook.]

In 2010, Facebook’s numerous privacy violations became the subject of a book, which in turn became the subject of a movie. All are successful.

In September, Tyler Clementi commits suicide after a telling tweet from his roommate and Perez Hilton vows to be nicer.

Foursquare, and other location-sharing applications, let you become your own GPS and is a privacy suit just waiting to happen.

Digital native or not, we’re all familiar with the fallout of when popular social networks become too social.

The latest notch in the proverbial stick is Google Buzz, an experiment by the tech giant that was launched earlier this year with mixed results. Though it has in no way reached the status of any of the aforementioned, it’s interesting to note that Buzz is not without its problems. As one of Gmail’s 170 million + users, I received the following email earlier this week:

My experiences with Google Buzz were uninspiring and short-lived. I basically clicked on it during its debut in February, only to find a mismatched collection of some of my Gmail contacts that included everyone from good friends, acquaintances, professors, and random people from some random mass emails I’ve received/or sent over the years.

It was weird. It lacked the interactivity of Facebook and even the shallowness of Twitter. And that was about it.

And by the looks of it, I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. Google’s current lawsuit stems from angry users who suddenly found their contact lists made available due to Buzz. You can view the terms of the settlement here:

Of course, tech-media watchdogs like TechCrunch were all over the suit like white on bread, pointing out that Gmail will not be forking over a penny to any of its disgruntled users. Instead, the $8.5 million fund will go towards “organizations focused on Internet privacy policy or privacy education, as well as to cover lawyers’ fees and costs and other expenses.”

In a time when companies are thirsting after web interactivity and web 3.0+, privacy issues are ablaze. And when you figure in the economic and editorial impact such services play in today’s journalism industry, it’s no small matter.

Leave it to Google to reap the cost without the benefits. On the social front, anyways.

The Fox and the Hound: Day 3

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

After living underneath a rock for the past weekend, I turned on my telly today expecting to see Hugh Laurie diagnose yet another medical mystery with an endless array of quips and pseudo-American wit, but alas what I got was far less entertaining.

A Series Killer's Message. Get it?

It was a white screen with a Cablevision logo in the bottom right and a pre-recorded message that could basically be summarized as ‘Fox is evil’ or more specifically, News Corp. is making unreasonable demands for retransmission fees. Now the typical viewer will react with moderate indifference until realizing that the message is indeed a blackout.

Fox blacked out channel 5, along with My 9, to Cablevision customers for a third day in a row, leaving 3 million viewers in the NY metro area in the dark–or in this case, in the ambiance of a bright white screen with looping audio of an angry retort by Cablevision.

While television viewers are accustomed to such messages of thinly veiled threats concerning contractual negotiations on the air, this recent spat between Fox and Cablevision is perhaps one of the most nastiest to date.

In March, it was all about a rumble between Cablevision and ABC, owned by Walt Disney, which culminated in a truncated broadcast of the Academy Awards. The blackout in that case had only lasted about 20 hours before both parties caved in to pressure.

And therein lies the rub: such blackouts, though heated, are bad for both sides. The provider is unable to provide viewers with programming, angering and perhaps losing customers, and the network suffers losses in ratings, which ultimately affect how much they can charge for ads.

It’s a lose-lose situation, one that has a journalistic angle of course.

The so-called retransmission fees refer to how much a provider, like Cablevision, needs to pay a network, like Fox, to air the latter’s content. Such demands from networks to steeply increase retransmission fees point to an underlying problem of profitability.

Fox, which is asking for $150 million from Cablevision (up from $70 million), is not much different from other networks which have similarly put the pressure on providers to pay more for programs in an effort to decrease their dependence on ad revenue.

Retransmission fees as an alternate revenue stream may seem all honky dory aside from the fact that such networks, Fox in particular as one of the major networks, has a commitment to public service in the form of news programming.

Fox made the dispute personal when it cut off access to its content to Cablevision internet users on Hulu, angering not only the tv crowd, but the web geeks and nerds (a phrase that is becoming less and less meaningful as we are all begin to spend our lives living on the web).

While no one can say just how long this stalemate will last, I think we can all agree that it’s rather unpleasant when the news actually affects our lives–or at least our television habits.

Online Pay-Per-View

October 10, 2010 § 1 Comment

Ah, the internal memo.

I’m sure at some point in time that the internal office memo remained internally within the office and was a sacred part of office etiquette not to be trifled with.

Gone are those days (if they ever indeed existed).

This recent post on Business Insider features a leaked memo from Gawker owner Nick Denton concerning how much employees should spend when buying a “commissioned piece of content.”

In other words, how much should Gawker be willing to spend in order to introduce readers to Jenn Sterger?

While such tabloid-esque stories wouldn’t carry much clout in the straight news industry, the idea of this pay-per-view journalism is definitely catching on when it comes to the web.

Increasingly, websites take a similar approach to defining costs based on clicks–letting clicks determine not only a story’s worth and budget, but the worth of the journalist who wrote it.

On a hyperlocal site like Patch.com, where local bureaus can consist of nothing but a single editor and a handful of freelancers, contributors can get paid a whopping $30 per article (so say a few of my friends who contribute to the site).

While a published clip is a published clip and j-students are probably more than grateful to receive any kind of monetary recognition for their student work, a lot of these online freelancing gigs pay a rather microscopic nominal free or even pay you purely based on how much web traffic you direct to their site.

What you end up seeing are desperate status pleas from friends on Facebook asking you to bring them one click closer to the thousand or so views needed to generate a dollar.

The boom of the internet seems to have caused an exponential rise in information and news, but not necessarily original information or news.

Traditional print media has sort of always relied on a “build it and they will come” kind of strategy, using ad revenue streams to make costly newsprint profitable, often operating in the red for years before breaking even.

While the web is seemingly based on the traditional business model of ads, the relationship between news and ads and how they affect each other is a bit murkier online. What happens when journalists’ pay are in direct relation to how many views they get? Do the same standards of journalism apply then too?

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