A Paywall So High. What if a Digital Startup Used Print as a Business Model

Right now the project is on two distinct rails that will converge. Soon, I hope. One is completing the prototype for the website, the other is reworking the business plan. I must dive in and out of each one every day (along with other, unrelated journalism work), and I am always forced to think hard, and make decisions that feel binding and pivotal to the future viability of the thing. More than multi-tasking, this is multi-stressing.

A coffee break I had this morning with a former old-media colleague, however, pushed to the surface a simmering thought that could have major consequences for both the prototype and the business plan. If you are going to have unique content…..he got me thinking…If your potential readership falls somewhere well short of massive… If advertising just aint cutting it. If the iPad showed us the future….why not just throw the blueprint out the window? And the website too? (Sorry Annie, halt the prototype!?)

Along this line of thinking, since I am launching a new product now, I shouldn’t even be toying around with Freemium models or new shortcuts to drive traffic. If I’ve got sumpin’ good, and unique, I oughta just put it up behind a paywall so high that I could call it a…er, uh…newspaper. Or magazine. Some of them are still making money, y’know. German papers announced impressive profits last quarter. NewsCorp just announced some turnaround numbers. My friends at Internazionale magazine, which brings the best foreign journalism into Italian, are having great success with their weekly, even as most other media in Italy are suffering through the crisis and industry upheaval toward the digital future. Their older cousins in France, Courrier International, are also continuing to grow subscriptions. We’re talking PRINT, folks! Rising Sales!! And so, you know what these two successful mid-sized pubs are doing with their websites? Nothing revolutionary. Making the most out of the space with minimal investment. Trying to look smart, sure, but not looking to cash in.

At least in general news, no one is cashing in online. Not even Huffington. Hyper-successful Politico began to turn a profit only after they introduced a weekly best-of print addition. In France there was even an experiment last year Vendredi, to do a weekly print product that republishes the best of the web-only journalism and commentary. Think outside the box. Think about cashing in on value where others are giving stuff away.

For me, it’s tempting. In some way, it takes you out of the rough surf of the changing platforms and fickle/distracted readership, and puts you on the dry land of a captured clientele. It wouldn’t have to be print, per se, it could be a straight-to-tablet product, and subscription-only website and email newsletter.  It’s tempting, yes, but it would not be strategic. My product is not specialized enough. And having your product available, mostly or entirely for free, on the internet, offers the kind of marketing and publicity that money can’t buy. This of course is also part of the internet revolution. And so our destiny, for better or worse, will play out online. From the heart that is our website, through the veins of social media and the information stream. Sometimes progress on your business model is simply eliminating hypotheses. None of this may matter much to anyone trying to predict the future of print media. But there is a clear message to at least one person: Annie, the prototype is back on! I’ll Skype you later…

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2 Comments

Filed under advertising, business model, new media, old media, paywalls

2 responses to “A Paywall So High. What if a Digital Startup Used Print as a Business Model

  1. Annie

    I was keeping my breath all through the reading off this post!!! Don’t do this again!!!:)

  2. Pingback: Between the Bishop of Rome and Monk of Cupertino: An iPad Prayer « News Launch Diary

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