23 Feb 2009 8:39 am   //   Filed under: Media, Technology

Another idea for saving newspapers

Like every journalist, I have a few ideas about how to make money off news web sites. Problem: Readers love to read the news online but hate to pay for it.

For the sake of argument, let’s admit that the micropayment model (explained in Time‘s much-mocked “How to Save Your Newspaper” story) is a terrible idea. It’s been tried. A lot of newspapers publish their current stories online for free, but charge a few bucks for online access to their archive. It doesn’t draw much of a crowd. Also, isn’t this backwards? Why charge for old stories when your newest stories are the most valuable?

Here’s my idea: I propose charging a premium subscription fee for readers who want the news before anyone else. It works like this. All the stories on your newspaper web site that are more than one hour old are free. A subscription fee (say, $50 a year?) grants readers access to the newest stories.

This serves the casual reader, who is never going to pay for online news. But it also serves businesspeople, news junkies and anybody who’s job depends on knowing stuff first. An hour is just the right amount of time. It’s not so annoying that casual readers are going to hate it (or find a way around it), but it’s enough of a premium that some people will pay more for it. Yes yes, there’s value to the incoming traffic you get when your exclusive breaking stories get picked up on Google News, Digg, blogs, etc. But I think an hour-long paid firewall won’t disrupt that process off too much.

I’d guess that maybe 1% to 5% of newspaper readers would pay for this kind of access. Okay, doing some back-of-the-envelope math, this definitely won’t save newspapers. But it’s a more realisitic idea than micropayments.