The End of Freeconomics


“Why would I put anything on the Web?” asked Dan Jacobson, the publisher and owner of the newspaper. “I don’t understand how putting content on the Web would do anything but help destroy our paper. Why should we give our readers any incentive whatsoever to not look at our content along with our advertisements, a large number of which are beautiful and cheap full-page ads?”


“… paid subscriptions for The Journal’s Web site were up more than 7 percent from a year ago.”


Filed under:

The End of Freeconomics

  1. Man…I don’t understand this mentality…

    Print should go the way of serious analytical commentary, and the web should be used for quick dissemination of information. I mean crap, how easy is it to simply get newswires as quickly as every major print media?

    The advantage that print media has over any potential commercial blog is their pool of advertisers…maintaining an outdated business model is bound for failure…


    • Yeah, have to agree that long-term this is not a good strategy. It might work for a while, but ten or so years down the line, I doubt anyone will be reading print newspapers anymore. Of course, part of the problem is that the continued existence of print newspapers means advertisers are less willing put money into internet advertising, so we might have a chicken/egg problem here.

      In there interests of making a crazy prediction that will turn out to be completely off base, I think we will ultimately see a lot of local papers basically downsize to the point where they just handle local news. Maybe they’ll still include links to national news stories (gotten through either the AP or something like Politico), but the focus will be on the local stuff that the national media doesn’t carry. There probably won’t be a lot of money in this business, but my guess is that there would be enough to pay for a few people. While email allows businesses to send ads to their identified customers, there will still be a place for general ads (esp. bringing in new customers). I would think things like supermarkets and small businesses would be the natural advertisers on local news websites.

  2. I can’t answer that. But certain things, phenomena, events are simply inevitable. Just suck it down like a man and face it.

  3. I’m not fully convinced that it’s a matter of shifting technologies and business models at work here. It may well be that the internet is something of a red herring that distracts us from some more profound cultural shifts.

    You wouldn’t believe how many university students have trouble understanding that Wikipedia, for example, is not a great scholarly source. It’s not that these kids are any less smart than my generation, so much as they are the product of a culture that treats all information as equal, more or less. Even the distinction between fact and opinion, or between off-the-cuff insight and substantive analysis seems be getting fuzzier.

    And in such an environment, it may prove nearly impossible to convince enough people to pay for quality journalism. Why would they pay, if they are just as happy with the free content churned out by the opinion mills?

    And I find that scarier than changing technology or outmoded business models.

  4. This may well work for a local paper responding to local needs and where the population has a long habit of looking to the publication for local news and advertising.

    My own local weekly has just started an on-line edition behind a partial firewall. I had a glance at it but I will buy the hard copy to see what the local theatre is showing, what music is going on, who is selling their house, what idiot is defaming the school board this week and so on ….

    I don’t look to the NYT for that.

  5. The way people get information is changing. Simple as that. Frankly, outside of J-school students, I don’t know anyone under the age of 40 who pays for a newspaper.

    As a journalist who works occasionally in dead tree but mostly online, I do think the MSM needs to do more features and enterprise reporting. This is something the print media has both the history and the capacity to do. As a blogger, I cannot go to Afghanistan to investigate whether or not Canada’s foreign aid is actually being used properly – I simply don’t have the resources to pull that off. The MSM can though.

    Another sign of the times is that people are going to news sites that write about topics they want to know about. They are not willing to wade through crap, Hollywood drivel and endless opinion to get what they want.

    Pick your bookmarks carefully….

  6. I’d ask the Globe and Mail and the New York Times about the success of their subscription-only policies.

    Except that they shut them down because they were dismal failures.

    I’m not seeing how that’s changing, exactly.

  7. This has been covered extensively at Jeff Jarvis’ BuzzMachine (I’m not him, I just respect him as an innovative thinker). Just go to his site and read, read, read, read.

    the tl:dr version is that hyper local works on the web even better than it does in print, but you need to reimagine the business (figure out how many journalists you can support, not try to support the # of people you have). You need to be selling something unique and HIGHLY valuable to survive as a subscription website. This is why WSJ and FT survive but NYT doesn’t. It also has to be immediately necessary – which is why The Economist’s attempt at subscriptions failed – a newsweekly doesn’t have the immediacy that keeps afloat the WSJ and FT, while not having the unique, valuable offering that Barron’s does.

    I’m sure there were a few successful buggy whip hold-outs. Hell, Hermes does one hell of a business these days, though it doesn’t focus quite as much on saddlery as it used to. Adapt or die, but remember that even adaptation isn’t sufficient for survival, it’s just necessary.

  8. I can’t see newsprint entirely disappearing. It’s too useful for catching paint splatter, lining canary cages, rolling up & swatting the kids . . .

  9. Если товар хорош, его перестают выпускать.

Sign in to comment.