Does Content Win?

It is well known that the U.K. has or at least had an obsession with newspapers. They were a staple diet of many peoples breakfast’s and commute to work. They engaged with their audience on various agendas and issues ranging from political to sport or the tabloid ones dedicated to shall we say a ‘different audience’. Before the days of the Internet the main way to consume news was newspapers and short news bulletins giving a gist of what was going on in the world.

Much has been written about how the Internet has changed how we consume news and how most News Publications haven’t caught up with this radical change. I agree with that to some degree but I actually think it predates the Internet.

I remember back to the heavy recession of the early 90’s when there was a huge change to my journey’s to work on the London Underground. That change involved newspapers and how one Newspaper disrupted the entire industry. Before the recession you could look at what people were reading and on an average carriage there were probably around 8 National newspapers being read. Then the big change happened almost overnight. A free newspaper was launched with availability at every train station and people clamoured to get the free one instead. The newspaper was funded entirely by ad’s. The content was sparse and lacked the depth, opinions and editorials of the likes of the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian etc but it was free and gave a snapshot of what was going on in the world. Times were hard and for the vast majority of us saving between £10-£30 a month was a big deal even though we were missing out on some great journalism. It was a price we seemingly were willing to ‘pay’. I remember a stand-up comedian making a quip that why doesn’t someone just read out the news for all of us on the carriage as we we were all reading the same bloody newspaper! So here we are in 2015 and the debate about how to monetise news and content online is even more relevant and at times divisive.

People have got too used to content being freely available with the few exceptions of paywalls.

I value great journalism and gladly pay for it be it The Guardian or smaller publications such as Stratechery and The Loop.

What I am about to say may cause a stir but I think it needs to be said.

The small companies can survive as they don’t have the overheads of a bigger organisation. They can also provide a personal connection via Twitter etc with their audience such as Daring Fireball.

The larger companies such as The Times are part of a big conglomerate and can survive due to other parts of their company bringing in the big bucks.

But what do the middle size companies do to provide great content but be sustainable? When John Gruber wrote an insightful piece last week about iMore having great content but their website being ‘shit-ass‘ it led to a heated and honest debate. Rene Ritchie wrote a great follow up explaining why the problem with ads is there and the different options that he and Mobile Nations need to do to remedy the situation. What was striking to me was while many comments on his article advocated like me to having an optional subscription model where you can pay to have no ads this was at most 90 people out of a readership of 10 Million Unique readers in June.

So bottom line it seems whether it’s apps, news, music, podcasts, software and more we have become accustomed and expect things that aren’t tangible to be free supported in many instances by ads.

I can’t see this attitude changing but I do worry about those mid size companies. I do think it’s telling when the likes of Re/code with the likes of Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher not being able to go it alone. But perhaps that was the problem they weren’t alone. There were 44 full time employees to pay.

I don’t want any great and respected journalists losing their jobs but I fear that companies that try and take on too much are taking a too big risk to stay afloat and thrive.

Ads in general are annoying at best and often intrusive like The Verge and ruin what we are reading. Maybe that’s the price we paid all those years ago when content became free and piracy became rife.

I don’t know whether Apple News and Safari ad blocker’s being available in iOS 9 will change things for the better. It may have a damaging affect on some websites but on the other hand I am hopeful that it may give those websites the necessary push to adapt to what consumers want. What’s sad is that so many of those very consumers will pay £3 for a coffee in Starbucks and then take out an iPhone/iPad and expect everything they read to be free.

Originally published at on July 12, 2015.

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