How much unique content is out there?

August 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Media, News, Print

Last week Rupert Murdoch announced that News Corporation would push ahead with the introduction of pay-per-view online content. Since then there have been suggestions Fairfax would follow, and the Boston Globe’s boston.com has also started to head in that direction.

My question is, “How much unique content is out there?”

The arguments in favor of paywalls have largely focused on the value of unique content that is produced by media outlets. I would like to see an objective analysis and review of unique content. I can only assume some sort of exhaustive analysis has informed the direction we are all being pushed towards.

I had already put this question to journalism academic Julie Posetti earlier in the week in an email, but Murdoch’s comments prompted me to ask the question again publicly.
Are there any in-depth studies looking at unique content in newspapers or their online sites, and what do those studies conclude?

On Thursday night, ABC’s Lateline Business reported plans to introduce paywalls at all News Corporation outlets by next year’s Northern summer. In a recorded teleconference Murdoch is heard saying that, to make a paywall work, News Corp would need to “make our content better and differentiate it from other people“.

RUPERT MURDOCH: We just make our content better, and differentiate it from other people and I believe that if we are successful, we’ll be followed by all the media.

Watch the video or read the transcript of the three-minute Lateline Business report on their site.

Or listen to what was said by just Rupert Murdoch here:
[podcast]http://earleyedition.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/murdoch-teleconference.mp3[/podcast]

The wording used sounds more like a statement of future intent – this is what we must do – but much of the paywall argument to date has focused on the unique content that newspapers and their online sites are currently giving away for free. I think using the Wall Street Journal as proof of concept is a bit flawed, because it is very different to a “paper of record”. If WSJ are generally targeting a specific market with market-related content, then they could be described as a niche publication. Is a paper of record that covers the gamut of local, national and world news able to drill down and provide unique content? That is, content that won’t be easily found elsewhere, and provides value to the reader.

I’m hoping a study exists, or some clever postgraduate student is currently working on it. It would be illogical to discuss the possibility of making people pay for unique content without a thorough assessment of the quantity of same.

An interesting one that just popped up yesterday in The Australian’s Media & Marketing section was that subscription paid off for one site after just three weeks.
Subscribers turn profit for NZ site | The Australian

Related reading:
Murdoch On Leading The Charging Charge | paidContent
This Is Rupert’s Last Stand: Making You Pay
Rupert Murdoch to charge to view news websites by 2010 | Media | The Guardian
Roy Greenslade: Murdoch is wrong to charge for online content | Media | guardian.co.uk
News Limited working on paid net models | The Australian
Bloggers may howl, but cash for content makes sense | The Australian

UPDATE:
To be perfectly clear on this, I don’t see a paywall working as a flat entry fee for the entirety of a masthead news site. It’s no secret that the internet’s disruption to the traditional business model is choice. People will only pay to get *exactly* what they want. Niche markets…you’ve heard it all before.
If there has to be an argument for paywalls, then the case of the WSJ is illustrative: people are willing to pay for premium industry insight and business-critical information. In Australia that might similarly translate to the business section of the paper, or quality reporting on state politics.

But then again, it might not. The biggest threat to the paywall will be free quality content available from places like the ABC and BBC.

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