With all the talk about whether the content of newspapers is of a quality the public will be willing to pay for online, it took a search of our paper’s archives recently to remind me that … it is. It’s not necessarily the quality of the individual story (although that’s obviously there), but of the narrative – the archive – that presents an ongoing and valuable commodity.
A mistake of mainstream media has been to ignore and devalue that content.
So if there’s going to be a paywall, maybe it should be for archived content. Not just archived material that you can do a text search on, but a powerful database of related, interwoven “smart” content. At the moment that’s largely unavailable. Allow users to follow the background story, or stories, that give context to the current revision, whether that history is contained in text, image, audio or video content.
As such, it equally applies to any media, or content creator, but this particular post approaches it from the mindset of print.
I had reason to search NewsText, a database of newspaper archives, for the entire history of the Queensland Government’s lobbyist issue, where former government ministers were representing lobbying firms on development projects. During the search I saw clearly the linear progression and connectedness of these articles across months, even years, all presented chronologically. It’s there without tags or related story linking, just a regular text search. Where the authors were different, and in some cases even the publication, the full story still unfolded.
But that linear value is completely lost, both in the newspaper because it isn’t possible, and online when it isn’t utilised. In the newspaper it’s only possible to read each article as a standalone piece, without reference or even knowledge of the wealth of background to the story, or the ongoing work a publication or journalist has devoted to covering that story.
There is the capability to do it online but, in most cases, it’s not being done. People can currently pay for this archival content, with access to historical textual news searches through services like NewsText or Lexis Nexis, but the ability to do that should be provided online from the originating news source.
And why not monetise it?
It’s not like it’s a service offered now and, like academic articles, it could provide a story précis or the context in which the search terms are contained. Some kind of context would help the consumer decide if they want to pay for the entire article, or a sequence of related articles and/or other media content.
If it’s done it shouldn’t be prohibitive to pay for articles. Ease of access is the barrier to overcome, and anything over just a few cents per article would quickly become prohibitively expensive.
You only pay $1.69 AU ($0.99 US) for a song on iTunes, and the whole point of that purchase is to have a product you can use (listen to) again and again. Most people who purchase an article don’t intend to use it over and over again. It’s a one time, single use purchase – generally for reference only and a cheap price should reflect that.
It’s wrong that newspapers and other content creators didn’t start doing this much earlier, or adopt the best practices of somebody who has figured it out. It’s not just another “related articles” plugin, although it includes that, but a seriously robust system that makes the archive useful. Content on news media sites is archived online but, if it wasn’t for Google, it would be nigh on impossible to actually find it.
Everyone has failed at converting content to the web and leveraging the value of their archives. Not just mainstream media. Everybody.