Saving journalism by paying for impressions not words

Every year hundreds of journalism graduates enter the market looking for work, and these are bad times to find a job in the newspaper business. Newspapers are seeing falls annually in advertising and subscriber revenues. With most of their content, or at least similar content, available on the web for free, why even bother buying or subscribing to a newspaper these days?

It is clear: newspapers are going the way of the Rotary Phone, and they are in desperate need of a new business model.

The consequences of the end of the traditional business model, based on 80% advertising revenue and 20% subscription revenue, are showing up everywhere in the industry. Massive lay-offs, mergers between newspapers hoping to survive, and changing formats from broadsheet to tabloid, are just some of the emergency measures being employed to save the industry.

The good news for students entering the market though, is that there are actually lots of new opportunities. With the decreasing number of fulltime reporters and editors in the newsroom, newspapers are being forced to buy more stories from freelancers, and the demand for freelance work is high and growing right now.

However, in the long run, as the number of freelancers in the market continues to grow and demand from newspapers for stories plateaus, prices will go down and getting published will become a rat race.

Large newsrooms are too expensive, a multi-million dollar printing press too heavy a burden, and shoveling content to the reader on trees smeared with ink is not working. Readers want something else, so put your money where your readers are. It is time to ditch the classical print newspaper business model, and look to more inventive business models.

We know where the readers are and what they want. Thanks to modern technology on the web, we know how many people are clicking on an article to read, and we know what they are looking for from search engine queries.

In the first case, you could pay a writer according to the number of clicks and give him or her a percentage of the ad revenue published with the story. The second one starts with finding topics for stories from search engine queries. Publish the story, and of course see to it that it ends up high in search engine results using optimisation. Again, the fee for the writer is related to clicks and advertising revenue.

I can hear the screams in the newsroom now: “That is not journalism!” Perhaps that is true, but that is where the money is, and it works!

Here are a few interesting examples:

  • The Faster Times is a new newspaper published online using open source software. Contributors are paid 75% of the revenue earned off the advertisements placed next to their articles.
  • True/Slant is another upstart, created by Lewis Dvorkin, using the same business model. The interesting thing is that an advertiser can actually ask to publish an ad next to a specific article, based on the estimated number of readers for that article.
  • Associated Content and Demand Media are really turning the business model upside down, because they base their stories on search engine queries and optimisation. As Demand Media say: “We’re publishing what the world wants to know and share”.
  • These new ‘newspapers’ are all working with a small staff in a simple newsroom, and the contributors are freelancers. The Faster Times pays between $5-$75 per story, and Demand Media’s freelancers can make around $15-$20 per item.

    These experiments make it clear that there are other business models, and that there is some hope for all the young and old journalists out there. The times of the rich newspapers paying high salaries are over, and it’s time for the industry to think creatively around new business models.



    Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

    Welcome to Memeburn

    Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.