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Disrupting the News: Monetizing Digital Journalism

In July 2011 I wrote an article on the new wave of journalism for The Next Web. In it I looked at how journalism was evolving in the digital age and asked the question, what is the future of journalism? A little under two years later and I’m still asking myself the same question. However, when I wrote that article the question related to the mediums used and the quality of the broadcasters, now the question relates to commercial models and how news organisations can survive and thrive on digital platforms. It’s a question I don’t yet know the answer to, but I’m not alone.

A quick Google search on “monetizing online journalism” brings up an array of articles pondering the subject; providing rare success stories, common failings and new ideas. One of the more humorous takes on the problem faced by news organisations is that of Drew Sheneman’s article ‘Monetizing online journalism: Now, a job for Superman’. In his article Sheneman tells how Metropolis’ favourite Kryptonian has left his position of reporter at The Daily Planet in favour of creating an online news blog. The overall sense of the article being that even Superman couldn’t solve the problem of funding news online.

“Superman may be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but can he figure out how to make a living under Google’s Adsense structure?”

Advertising

There are two popular options for online publishers looking to make a profit. The first isn’t a new concept. Advertising. The aforementioned Google Adsense is a popular way of monetizing websites, while other sites (especially those bringing in high visitor numbers) opt to create their own advertising packages. As with other forms of media – TV, radio and print publishing – banner advertising creates a revenue stream for online publishers through commercial partners. However advertising in this traditional sense, if research is to be believed, could have a short shelf life in digital. A study carried out by YouGov last year found that 66% of consumers surveyed said they were bombarded with too many online adverts. The same number said their perception of a brand could be lowered if they felt the adverts were too invasive. These are worrying statistics for advertisers and digital publishers alike. Both will be looking for new income streams in the not so distant future. 

Paywalls

The other form of revenue becoming more popular with online news organisations and publishers is the paywall. Rather than giving unlimited free access to news content, consumers must sign up and pay to view content. According to AFP there are more than 300 US daily newspaper sites using paywalls for their content, showing an acceptance of the model by the consumer. But there are many that believe paywalls aren’t the answer. US newspaper editor Alan Mutter argues that “it’s a wall keeping people out, and it’s not strategically wise when [news organisations] need to be growing their audience.”

News organisations in the UK also seem to be divided by the paywall. The Times newspaper made waves when it launched it’s paywalled site in June 2010. Comscore reported that by November that year The Times’ online readership had dropped by 4 million after the paywall was installed, but two years later the paywall is still in place and the newspaper has over 400,000 digital subscribers. These figures however haven’t persuaded The Guardian whose online edition won five awards including ‘Website of the Year’ and ‘Best National News Site’ at the Online Media Awards last year. Interestingly The Guardian’s only digital subscription service, The Guardian iPad Edition also won the award for ‘Best Technical Innovation’. 

The future?

So is digital publishing part of the answer? Apple obviously thought so when it launched Newsstand in 2011. Five months after the launch of Newsstand it was reported that the top 100 US publishers were bringing in over $70,000 a day through the app. In January this year publisher Hearst announced a partnership with Apple where it would be releasing the digital editions of its magazines through Newsstand days earlier than the print or other digital subscriptions, adding more force to the app.

Never one to miss out on the action, Google launched Google Play Magazines in the UK late last year and it was reported this month that they could be looking to release an news app to rival Apple’s Newsstand, Google Play News.

With big players like Apple and Google investing time and, most importantly, money into e-publishing, it could lead to revitalisation new publishing needs.

Photo Credit: Mat Packer via photopin cc

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Deborah Mackay

Director and Founder at Digital Polish Ltd
Deborah has been producing articles for online and offline publications since 2004. Her specialist interests include technology, entrepreneurialism and life hacking. She holds a PGDip in broadcast journalism from UCLAN.

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