Fear and paywalls

Alan Mutter finds "paywalls" scary. I don't. Here's why:

Meters are not walls. As I've said before: It's not a paywall. Meters selectively target users with a demonstrated high affinity for the content and leave everyone else alone. The (disturbing) demand curve that I discovered over a decade ago has proved to be a fundamental truth: A small segment of the local market with high civic engagement will use a local news site heavily. That segment values the content and can be induced to pay for it. The revenue, as post-newspaper local media companies are discovering, is real and significant, and can be used to fund much-needed improvements in content and services.

There is no typical consumer, and we shouldn't be targeting him or her. We have to stop thinking with 20th century mass-media models. The era of the single mass product is over. The "newspaper-y" journalism product has a selective appeal to a specific audience. It's not for everybody. Making a site totally free doesn't change that. To connect with the marginally engaged and disengaged potential audience, you need separate products designed to accomplish that goal. Those products generally will not satisfy the core engaged audience.

We can not persist with the notion that some way, somehow, we're going to create a digital version of 1965 where everybody sat down to read the evening newspaper. It's not going to happen. This is why we have a portfolio. This is why we have a mix of free and paid products, digital and print, mobile and tablet and desktop-targeted. This is why we have content designed for light readers and other content designed for committed insiders, some general, some niche.

It's not easy. But those of us on the audience side can look at the revenue side of the business and see that we are not alone. Our sales force doesn't just sell space. And they don't just sell multiple products or even multiple media. They also sell behaviorally, geographically and demographically targeted marketing, messages delivered across vast digital networks, search engine optimization, search marketing, and a lot more. Every sales conversation has to be built on a foundation of a needs assessment process that just didn't exist in the old world.

This is complicated. And I suppose it can frighten. But I'm not.