Newspapers: the futureThe way out of the paywall debate is for newspapers to become the online authority on what to buy and what to do
By Grig Davidovitz and Max Levitte
Take a look at Google's homepage and compare it with any newspaper's homepage. One difference is striking: www.google.com, the most viewed media output on the planet, contains no ads. And, unlike the newspaper industry, Google doesn't have any financial problems.There is a lesson to be learned here. Google understood that blindly converting its users' eyeballs into money is not enough. The key is to develop a revenue model that makes the most of its unique advantage online. That advantage is being an online search platform, and the system it has developed integrates perfectly into that, by displaying relevant text ads for each search. Newspapers, by contrast, have tried importing the old media's ad revenue model to the web – and failed.
Online display ads don't have enough impact on users to be attractive for advertisers, and therefore don't generate enough income for publishers to sustain the newsrooms. This problem worsens as the print news industry generates less and less income, while people's attention shifts more and more online.
In their despair, newspapers are now trying to copy another income model from old media -- subscriptions. News Corp and the New York Times, for example, are at different stages of erecting paywalls around their sites. But it is not clear if users will be ready to pay for online news they are used to getting free. And this strategy will clearly reduce newspapers' visibility on the web, both on search engines and on social media – while cutting revenues from the ad model.
The solution is that, just like Google, newspapers should invent a revenue model that utilises their unique advantage on the web: their credibility. So how can they make money from trust? From a reader's point of view, the first step before buying a product or a service is deciding what to buy. The best agents to answer such questions online should be newspaper websites, as they have both the knowledge and the credibility.
Newspapers should be the online authority on what to buy and what to do. Not only is this their duty in our age of information overload, it can easily be converted into revenue. The first step, then, is to anticipate the user's quest. Reviewing "best cameras under £300" is a good example. The second step is to create the copy and the web page that provides answers to the reader's question. The third and last step is to link to product or service providers. The newspaper generates revenue when the reader clicks on these links (if using the pay-per-click model) or when the deal is completed (if using the pay-per-action model).
The roles are clear: the newspaper creates the credible research or review, the search engine sends the visitors, a contextual advertising program matches relevant providers/advertisers to the content, and all parties share the revenue. Readers are exposed to the relevant text ads as they pass through the newspaper's credibility filter, and are ready to make a purchase.
When searching for "best laptop" on Google, no newspaper is present in the first few results pages. Newspapers have the reviews, the writers, the credibility, the potential to rank high on search results – but they are not there. Too bad, because that's exactly where the money is.