Okay the NY Times is in a bind. They’ve got a good thing going, they’re the largest circulation news org on the web. But their print edition is shrinking in circulation, or the advertisers aren’t willing to pay to be there, or whatever. It’s not generating enough money to pay for the expense of all those reporters.
What to do?
Okay, we know what they think they want to do — put up a paywall. They’ve been saying so for a long time, but so far they haven’t had the guts to actually do it. For a while, a few years ago, they actually had a paywall on the op-ed page, until they realized the opinion bloggers were eating their lunch. Brooks and Krugman et al couldn’t get into the conversation because no one was pointing to them, because people wouldn’t point through a paywall.
I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about it, because, while I appreciate that they need money, there’s no fracking way that the paywall is going to generate enough to justify the likelihood that it will knock the Times out of its leading position as an original source of web news.
Then I read the headline of a piece by Fred Wilson: Monetize The Audience, Not The Content.
I found the headline totally intriguing.
Never mind that I despise the word audience, I think anyone who thinks there’s an audience on the web is misunderstanding the web. But I wonder what the heck that means — Monetize The Audience. Hmmm.
Then I thought of something that’s been bugging me for decades. Why can’t I run an ad in the NY Times? And of course that’s wrong — I can run an ad in the NY Times. They take money from individuals all the time. Is it prohibitively expensive? Actually it’s not all that expensive, when you think about the stature it conveys. Once, a long time ago at Living VIdeotext, we put together $250K to run a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal. It was well worth it. The WSJ was a much bigger deal back then, in the business world it was kind of like the whole web is today. Can you imagine buying an impression for everyone reading the web for a full day for just $250K? If you had the money and something to sell them, which I did, you’d do it in a snap.
Now that led me to TechMeme. When they first started taking ads I told Gabe I wanted to buy some. Apparently my money wasn’t good enough, because he never responded. Every time I look at one of the ads there I think — this person meant more to Gabe than I did.
Here’s the deal, and this is going to drive professional reporters out of their minds. Not only do I write for free (for example this piece, which could make money for your employers, but won’t make me a dime) but on certain occasions, an idea is so important for me to promote that I might even pay for impressions, if the price was right and the placement was good.
And therein my friends is the solution to the dilemma of the NY Times.
Say I’m looking at a story and think “Sheez this reporter is totally full of it,” or “Didn’t I see this guy at a ballgame last week with the guy he’s quoting in this story?” or “I wrote a much better post about this last week, I wish everyone reading this could see my piece.” I would definitely pay for a spot next to every cockamamie piece David Carr writes explaining the “realities” of the news business.
In other words, the reporter makes his or her choices of who to quote or what angle to cover in their story, but we all know there are lots of ways to slice it. Why shouldn’t I be able to, off on the side, give the readers another point of view, assuming I’m willing to pay for the priviledge?
This potentially puts all of us on the same footing as the Times, without the Times having to give us any authority. They disclaim responsibility for what’s said in the right margin. “That’s just how we pay the bills,” says their editor.
I’m not paying to read the Times. I used to, but I don’t anymore. It’s not like buying the latest gadget from Steve Jobs. Paying the Times to read their stuff doesn’t give me sweaty palms. But blowing a few bucks to get my thoughts into the flow alongside theirs, now that’s something I’d pay for.
I’ve explained some of the details and groundrules in the first comment, below.