Impact: Media companies can bolster more profitable legacy sales in traditional media by adding digital, and in the process, can move their clients to newer platforms. But deals that combine legacy and digital ad sales make it difficult to determine how much revenue is truly attributable to new media. At some companies, half of digital sales have been “bundled” with print or broadcast, and the way those dollars are apportioned can be largely at the whim of the accountants, rather than being an accurate reflection of the value of the ads.
• Many efforts to get readers to pay for content have been fitful, poorly executed and motivated more by ideology than economics. Only a few publications have had a successful, long-term plan to get readers to pay, and even fewer have done it in a way that genuinely increases online revenue rather than simply protects their traditional businesses. Was free content journalism’s “original sin”? Perhaps, for news organizations must now ask readers to start paying for material that has been free for fifteen years. Meanwhile, pay-per-article schemes, such as the one proposed in a 2009 Time cover story by Walter Isaacson, haven’t caught on for journalism. Unlike Beatles songs, news stories have little lasting value beyond a single use.
Impact: Users have unlimited access to most content, and publishers have unlimited access to most users. But circulation revenue, one of the mainstays of the traditional media business, has withered. And one of the methods that advertisers have used to judge audience quality—willingness to pay—has evaporated as well.
As one looks at this list, it becomes clear that most of the economic disadvantages have been fully realized at news organizations, while many of the benefits—such as a surge in mobile-phone advertising—are more potential than real. At the same time, some new models are emerging that can replace some, if not all, of the revenue news organizations have relied upon. Journalists and publishers, new and old, are responding to this new environment in a variety of ways. We’ll examine how they have coped, transformed, and endeavored to meet the challenges of the digital era.
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