Reading between the lines

One of my favourite reminders to every brand is – be very clear about what it is you are selling. So often, companies have a view of what they’re offering that differs from what their customers are actually buying. News that The New York Times has confirmed its pricing strategy has me wondering if they have fallen into the same quandary.

The temptation when you produce a newspaper must be to believe that customers are buying news. The Times certainly seems to think so. According to the article, the new pricing strategy means readers get up to 20 articles per month free, and after that they will be prompted to purchase a subscription. That limit is designed to “draw in subscription revenue from the most loyal readers while not driving away the casual visitors who make up the vast majority of the site’s traffic.” If you get to the newspaper via social media the 20-article rule does not apply, but there is a five article a day limit for those who access the site via Google.

(That in itself is interesting because I don’t know about you but I source all my news through aggregators.)

The model infers that the Times believes those who get their news from them will buy their news from them. And whilst I agree totally with the Times’ Chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, that there is “valued content”. I’m not convinced that news per se – the data I can source freely and without cost from so many places – is actually “valued”. The inevitable question of course is: valued by whom – and why? The newspaper or the readers?

If you look at the online subscription models that have worked, such as the WSJ, what readers seem to be actually buying is authority. It’s less about the news per se and more about the analysis of situations, issues, developments etc by bright minds in a specialist environment. The information itself has become a given. It’s the thoughtful analysis of that information by a source they respect that people crave.

Next question. How far would that extend? I might pay for an analysis of an emerging market. But would I pay for the latest gossip on Lady Gaga when much if not all that information is freely circulated on Twitter, through fan sites and in social media?

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