- 1 Bill Densmore's notes from Steve Brill's presentation at Individuated News/Denver June 22, 2010
Bill Densmore's notes from Steve Brill's presentation at Individuated News/Denver June 22, 2010
Peter Vandeventer introduces Steve Brill from Journalism Online/Press+.
He calls Brill "the leading company of getting people to charge."
Vandeventer says Press+ "is the choice of many, many newspapers including MNG and our newspapers where we are going to begin offering that at Chico and YOrk and there's been a lot of vetting within MNG."
Brill will talk for 25 minutes and then there is a Q&A.
Brill begins by saying he appreciates being in the lead but also appreciates being associated with the First Amendment values noted on the walls of the Denver Post building lobby. He said he wrote magazine articles throughout college and and law school.
He started American Lawyer and Court TV, and sold that. He and his wife donated money to start the journalism initiative at Yale University. Participants are scattered at news organizations all around the world.
Two years ago he got a call from a woman calling from her dry-cleaning store in Queens. How was her daughter, at Yale and interested in journalism, going to pay back her student loans? "And so, about a year ago, this kept eating away at me, I started this company."
He said he teamed up with Gordon Crovitz and Leo Hindery.
"We have also received a minority investment from News Corp., Rupert Murdoch's company.
Brill starts in with slides.
The mission is to help restore the viability of journalism as a business model and to provide technology and market intelligence publishers must have to generate revenue from readres and distributors for their digital content, through a flexible hybrid paid model. For print publishers, they want to restore the value propositions of the print media by eliminating the full free alternerative and to "help consumers through this transiton by simplifying the process by which they can gain access to paid content."
"We think we've developed a convenient, easy way to move consumers into the process," says Brill.
His next slide asks why Press+ should be the choice of publishers. His points:
-- Try to allow publishers to benefit from the network affect. "Once you sign up for Press+ and once we have your account, then if you want to sign up (for another content service) then you just have to click. You're already done."
He says this is half of what iTunes does. The good thing is that iTunes is easy, but the bad part is "Apple owns the customer . . . that's the thing we don't do, which you'll see in a second."
"As we get some critical mass, we are going to put packages together . . . for example we could do a baseball package . . . and that might attract people to the pages of the Denver Post."
What are services?
Services break down into four categories:
1. Common platform. Buy annual or monthly subscriptions, day passes or single articles from multple publishers.
2. Participation in Topic-Based Packages. Aggressively market all-inclusive annual or monthly subscriptioins for consumers who want to pay one fee to acceess common areas of ocntent acrsso the sites.
3. Reports from the front line.
4. A common base of knowledge.
Now he shows a screen shot. You can buy monthly subscriptions, and you can choose one more platforms, "so that people can buy from you, no matter what the platform. . . . The logic is simple -- you produce the content . . . the brand that (people) care about is the newspaper. How they choose to get that content delivered is between you and them."
His slide says: "The user never leaves the site. Registration, authentication and purchases all take place within a single dialog box."
He adds: "The publisher owns all the data and the publisher makes all the decisions about publishing and packaging and everything else."
The Reader Revenue Platform
With 16 dials, Press+ offers infinitely flexible payment options, says Brill's slide. He lists the 16 (no change from earlier disclosers. Some of the 16, just typed quickly: Meter access ,selected content, timely content, teasuer content, ehnaced site functions, out-of-market access, mobile/tablet access, membership, micropayments, day of week passes, monthly and annual subscriptions, topical packages, print/online bundles, convrsion and upsells, ancillary products, donations.
He focuses particularly on out-of-market access. He says a college newspaper came to him and say they don't want to charges students or faculty but have tons of alumns. They wanted to charge their alumni.
"We think we know that micropayments are not going to work and subscriptions are going to work, but why take the chance, so we are building both," says Brill.
Where does that put us today?
Brill thinks we are an infliction point. He identifies three stages:
- First stage was giving it away for free.The thought was that ad revenue would work. But price goes down if the supply is unlimited. Online advertising inventory is unlimited. As a result, he says the print franchise goes into a tailspin. "It has not been the bonanza that everybody thought and it is not likely to be."
- Stage two: Experimentation with paid content. As it becomes clear that ad revenues will not be enouhg, publications monetize their website by charging readers for online content. Publications that successfull make the shift convince readres that their online product has value while maintaing traffic-generated ad revenue and defending their print franchise.
- Stage three: Going digital. Print becomes icnreasingly obsolete; readers want to get their news in a digital form. Just as they were willing to pay for a quality print product, they are willing to pay for a digital product they can trust. Publications that have been able to convince readers that they deliver a valuable product are the ones that stick around.
From a slide:
- Defend, but build, too. If you simply charge a lot for your online content, you will help defend print. But you will also drive online readers away. Which means your not building for Stage Three. Plus, you're leaving money on the table right now -- and hurting print up-sells.
- It's not payback time. Yes, your readers have been getting your product for free for years, and you've seen the light, so now you're tempted to make your website so expensive that they are forced to buy you in print. But remember where you are heading. Digital content, not prit, is the future, and if you don't provide a quality, sustainable online product in your market at a price that will attract buyers, someone else (Yahoo? Google?) will succeed by offering an inferior product for free.
- But it is time to get paid. You need to get your reares accustomed to the idea that your online product has value, so you shouldn't be giving it away for free, even to print subscribers. Publications that already have paid content modes have found that print subscribers are willing to pay a (discounted) sum for the online product as a bundle with print. Don't leave that money on the table.
- Baby steps are good. it's OK to start slow, with a low price and a high meter. Your goal is to get your most loyal readers used to the idea tht quality content is worth something online without losing casual readers who are less likely to pay. Low prices and flexible meters will stop you from scaring anyone away in this phase.
"We are making a platform here that is flexible, and everybody needs to be flexible," says Brill.
What are decisions must publishers make now?
- Decide which content is to stay free and which should be premium?
- What do you do every day that is distinctive and valuable? "If everybody . . . is thinking that way, that can only be a good thing."
- What type of access to premium content will you ask users to pay for? Choices included metered (how many free articles), geographic (charge out of market), timely (archives pay/free), interactive (what about sharing content).
- How much should you charge?
- How will you expaand your paid model
- How will you change your ad rates?
"This whole process, when we started talking to publishers, I remember the publisher at a large national newspaper, the publisher had a look of fear in her eyes . . . it was as if she was imagining she was going to be asked to dive off this cliff."
"The metaphor we use is imagine this big swimming pool in a luxury resort and you have 42 steps and you just walk very very low, step by step . . . no bad things are going to happen, you are just going to do it slowly and you measure each step as you go along. That's the way we're going to work out of this thing."
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: As you take the baby steps, how are you going to protect your content online?
A: He says this is a favorite type of question. What if 1% of people steal it? The answer is _hit happens, he replies. CAn you erase the cookies and go around the meter? the WSJ has found only a few percent actually do that. You won't eliminate it completely. Most people are doing it for the convenience. "I put that under the category of a really great problem."
Q: What does investment by News Corp. mean to you?
A: They already have some systems in place. It wouldn't surprise us or them if a lot of their other publications used us. There are certain things we can do much easier and faster than the legacy systems they have. What the News Corp. investment means and the reason I was so happy to get it is . . . any new company faces the problem of financial credibility. "If somebody just made a multi-million dollar investment," that helps a lot.
"Rupert is the single most foreceful and articulate person arguing for this simple proposition that all the things these people do upstairs have value, and that is very important to all of us," says Brill.
Q: Is dicussion changing with editors as you have this? They are less worried about losing traffic?
A: He gives a pretty long answer ending with: "What's changed in newsrooms is the realization that they really need to worry about getting paid," says Brill. "I think that whole attitude has changed."
His reaction to stories about Google "newspass" initiative
Q: He is asked about the Google announcement.
A: He says Google just told writers of those stories what they told the Newspaper Association of America a year ago. "It is not an announcement . . . I think it just shows the power of the New York Times, to discover an announcement that is a year old."
A: He says: We have five of the seven largest or eight of the 10, and David (someone from MediaNews Group) said, why do I want to be on your press release in August when I can't tell my customers what my plans are, when I want to do this I'll announce it to my customers. Then someone gave an interview to Business Week. He said it was up to the affiliates to announce. "Now we've got religion, we don't talk about any of our affiliates, and as they role out this summer they will tell their customers what they want to tell them .... it takes the burden off us, and it is the way we should be doing it."
Q: Is your stuff going to be searchible?
A: We are not searchible in any way, shape or form because we don't have any content. The newspapers do. He says it will still be searchible via Google News -- just a summary. "You don't go off the Google radar."