Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Paywalls: Only for those who Kick Ass

Matt over at Signal vs. Noise commented on a recent Economist piece, and I feel I should elaborate on my own Google Reader comment. News sources that write what I like, I read. In some cases I'll even pay for it. I like local news, so I subscribe to The Daily Hampshire Gazette. It comes to my door every workday. I don't care much for their website, so I hardly go there. I like to read the New York Times, so I read it when I find it. Somedays, at the local cafe I'll even find today's Times. That's a gift. I get excited about that, like I do when I find a shiny nickel or quarter on the ground, or a folded up dollar bill. More than not, I'm reading news, albeit the Times, that's a few days old. But it's still news to me or I wouldn't be reading it, right? So lesson:

  1. I'll pay for news that's local
  2. I'll gravitate to news sources that are free, but only if they serve a niche well (can't be too general) or have a particular angle to hit and grind
  3. I could be persuaded to buy some access to premier publications if they have features (like kick ass sharing or research features)
  4. I'll subscribe to longer form news journalism, but only those that kick a most serious ass (The Economist, The New Yorker, The Atlantic)

Narrowing this already narrow publishing point down to The Issue involving my own business niche with dictionaries: The above points illustrate why publishers will have such serious issues when print finally does diminish so far as to be unsustainable. Without a product people can buy, who will feed the expensive authoritative lexicographical factories? (Non-authoritative? You may be able to sustain with cheaply produced pulp.) Paywall services rely on 1) great design, great execution, great features that allow users to rock their own world and 2) authoritative content. Unless your dictionary is the top of the heap within a narrow category, or unless it's Webster's or OED, you better be planning to make a top tier service incorporating all of your best content on the web right now. If not, you'd better be really good at grabbing eyeballs and selling advertising.