Paid content is the best hope of saving “the media” as we know it. The problem is killing all the free content first, or alternatively, breeding a new generation that understands content is often worth precisely what it costs you.
Some will read this as an “old media” guy waxing for the good ol’ days of newspapers with 30-percent margins. Or think I am channeling Barry Diller or Rupert Murdoch; a couple of other old media guys who believe paid content is their future.
But Barry, Rupert, and I know two things that media consumers may not realize:
1. The model of advertising supporting free or low-cost content is absolutely broken.
2. Quality content costs money and, in general, isn’t created by part-timers or hobbyists.
Somebody has to pay for content, and it will be the consumers. It always has been, but the ability to hide the cost of information and entertainment in the selling price of essentially all other goods and services has suddenly disappeared.
Quality content is going to cost money, but consumers have not shown much inclination to pay for it directly. Why should they when “good enough” content is available for free?
The main barrier to the rise of quality paid content is, not shockingly, all the free content that already exists. The good news is that even free content seems to be having trouble earning a living here lately.
I am terribly afraid for the future of the original gatherers and creators of what we read, listen to, and watch. There are fewer professionals today actually watching and reporting on our world, yet many more commenting upon and spinning what the reporters find. That imbalance needs to end or government will do its thing essentially unmonitored. (Yet, highly spun and commented upon).
That’s the news side. On the entertainment side, there are now so many choices that investing in great new content is made difficult or impossible by the inability to draw a crowd that’s large enough to sell to an advertiser at a premium price.
There is a part of me that says all this will work out in the end and we will be, essentially, where we started. That businesses will always need to promote themselves and communities will always support a local information resource that helps keep government in-check.
Maybe consumers will eventually lose their taste for the dreck they are getting for free and realize that investing in premium content is the better way to go. I am optimistic that is where we will end up. I just don’t know where it will come from or who will be around to see it.
David Coursey has been involved in “news” for 35 years. He tweets as techinciter and can be e-mailed from www.coursey.com/contact.