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It’s Crazy: You’ll Pay $500 for a Newspaper, But Zero for News

I started to wax philosophically about the news and newspapers after listening to New York Times editor Bill Keller in an NPR interview.

What is it that subscribers to The New York Times really pay for each day? The paper without the news on it is worthless. At the same time, consumers refuse to pay for news served up on the Internet. So right now as a consumer product, news without paper is also worthless. People only seem to be willing to pay for two worthless commodities when they are combined into one. In the case of The New York Times they pay $10 a week, $500 a year. Strange isn’t it.

In the past, you could argue that people also wanted the ads, but you won’t be able to make that argument much longer. Ads and news are decoupling. News and paper are decoupling. You will still have ads, news and paper, just not together any more.

No one wants empty paper, so you can push that aside. So we are left with ads and news. There will be plenty of places to get your ads. So no worry there. Now we have that orphan news.

Without proper nurturing that little orphan will wilt away. Who will adopt it? Who will nurture it? Who will help it stand on its own?

So let’s say the more than 300,000 subscribers of the now bankrupt Chicago Tribune got mad as hell at Sam Zell and decided they would start their own cooperative news organization. For $3 a week each they could own the journalism equivalent of the Green Bay Packers. Citizen owned journalism support by $45 million annually with each person just investing $3 a week. Do the math $3 a week or a $150 a year times 300,000 potential citizen owners equals $45 million.

You could have $30 million going to the newsroom and an additional $15 million into an endowment so that over time the actual cost to the citizen owners would go down. But alas it would require paying for news without paper and, of course, we know that’s a totally crazy idea.

5 Responses to “It’s Crazy: You’ll Pay $500 for a Newspaper, But Zero for News”

  1. Bryan Murley Says:

    Of course, most college paper are already free and have higher readership than locals. How to explain that?

  2. Leonard Witt Says:

    Hi Bryan:
    It’s truly hyperlocal and their only source of campus news. Plus they have plenty of free time between classes or over lunch. But it is still news on paper. From what I heard, students are not exactly flocking to read campus news on the internet.

    Is that correct? Of course, you know more about that than I do. If it is correct, why are they still relying on campus newspapers?

    Couldn’t they get everything they need via news on Facebook. Once someone figures that out, bye bye college newspapers.

  3. links for 2008-12-10 – Innovation in College Media Says:

    [...] It’s Crazy: You’ll Pay $500 for a Newspaper, But Zero for News What is it that subscribers to The New York Times really pay for each day? – Len Witt asks the pertinent question. Of course, most college papers are free to begin with. (tags: newspapers economics business) Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  4. Notes from a Teacher - Thursday squibs Says:

    [...] It’s Crazy: You’ll Pay $500 for a Newspaper, But Zero for News. Len Witt wants to switch that around, but his idea means doing away with the paper part. [...]

  5. We pay for paper and news, but not online news — a little math « The Information Valet Project Says:

    [...] 14, 2008 · No Comments Leonard Witt at Kennesaw State University does a little math and asks the question (paraphrased): “Why are people willing to pay $500 a year for news on paper, but nothing for [...]