Editors are not used to people talking back to them in real time. Publishers are not used to having to rethink their business model on a daily basis. Everything the print was set up for changes online.
Take for example content. Aside from the exceptional courtesy copies, which someone (either a hotel chain, or your employer) often ends up paying for, you pay for print content.
In many cases, the cost to you purports to guarantee a certain writing standard, layout and flow. The portable print version contains what you've come to expect in the quality and thus experience.
Because the Internet is still in many ways the wild, wild, way, many an attempt to control and wall off content has been seriously thwarted.
The pay-to-read model is but the domain of a very few publications. Some think that attempts to maintain the old, paid ways online are getting harder and less profitable.
Online models for main stream publications may mean in many cases forfeiting the revenues coming from subscriptions in favor of ad-sponsored content. That is hard on two fronts:
1. with a very few exceptions, the ads are not that exciting (and thus effective).
They are in fact more interruptive and often less relevant than they print cousins. Why they are less relevant is a mystery to me, as they could easily have more impact given the ability to sponsor specific content and geographies, for example. However, I do get the broadcast nature of such advertising.
In order for the buy to make sense for the buyer, there is a need to know what traffic it will generate. Never mind that much of that traffic will be somewhat indifferent to the "message." It is tempting to go for how many instead of who to justify a cost that is by no means smaller. But is this a justified cost for effectiveness? I believe it fails both on the advertiser's side and the publication's side.
2. the sponsoring is still happening through ads (we should know better).
This flies in the face of having actual conversations, which is increasingly the currency of online interactions, even when they are just in our own minds. I'm not advocating embedding products and services in news stories as we did in television programming. There must be a better way to go about it all the same.
I do prefer to know exactly who is sponsoring anything, as I am a strong believer in keeping editorial and advertising separate, even for bloggers. It seems to me that the opportunity created by the new media has not really been explored. And with readers increasingly becoming more concerned about the cost to produce and deliver print editions, it seems to me that there is indeed a perfect storm brewing in favor of online models.
Is there a third front?
I believe there is. This idea came to me as I was reading the comments to Chris Anderson's post (link above) and came across what Rex Hammox put forth. How about a free, paid new media back channel? Right now, for example, any article from the Wall Street Journal that is dugg becomes free through that channel. What's more, it now has an endorsement from a member of the Digg community.
Let's think about that. Linking is the currency of new media, it means Google juice. More juice means a higher Google PageRank and more readers through search because of that. More readers, many of them through a vetted/trusted member of a community, means the brand spreads faster. It also means that now the editor has a better idea of who is interested in what specific content.
Remember that online it is far easier to understand who will read instead of how many. Is this an opportunity for a better conversation with topical content? I believe it is if you're willing to make that conversation more intimate, more focused, highly relevant and thus valued.
How about building or joining a community that is more business-oriented than news? I am liking the LinkedIn industry topical feature for example. Many readers are spending more time researching information on businesses. There will be many more in the future thanks to an ever increasing free agency, courtesy in part of the greater access to networks and technology at lesser cost.
The free back channel might indeed give publishers and editors a better set of hows on paid content.
[the chart is from a couple of years ago, but it does indicate what content we consume online]