Yesterday I wrote about my frustrations with current sources of news. There’s another main reason for my current news-related project though, and that’s more optimistic.
I’m not alone in wondering what will happen to news online, what with newspapers dithering about whether people should pay to read some or all of their articles. But, while it’s interesting to ponder what will happen to existing large news organisations, I’m also interested in what their future means for smaller, maybe not-yet-existing, sources of news.
Let’s sketch out some hasty scenarios.
First, let’s say that all, or the majority, of big news sites set up paywalls and this works for them — they make enough money to keep going and the paywalls stay up. This seems like an opportunity for smaller sites, with lower overheads, who don’t do the expensive stuff but can satisfy a large enough audience to get by on advertising (or whatever else they can think of).
Or, second, maybe paywalls are tried and they don’t work. Few people are willing to pay for what they think of as “free”, and the existing newspapers’ readers move to sites that can afford to provide news for “free” (ie, with no up-front costs to the reader).
In this scenario, and paywalls don’t work, existing newspapers are going to be in trouble, in the absence of any other bright ideas. I imagine, whether they stay behind their paywalls or re-emerge, we’ll see several failing and the survivors combining. There will be less variety than there is currently which, maybe, again leaves space in the market for smaller, distinctive sources of news catering to readers who want something different.
Or, a third scenario: maybe there’s an alternative to what we currently think of as paywalls. Maybe there will soon be a way to publish “print” material and have people pay for it in a manner they don’t mind. The web feels like it should be free, but maybe there will be a new media, one where the inconvenience costs of transactions are low enough that many people will happily pay up front.
It’s easy to speculate wildly about such possibilities for the next few hours, until (I had to mention it) Apple probably release its new device which many hope will do for publishing what iTunes and the iPod etc. have done for music. If that’s the case maybe we’ll see a flourishing of small “presses”, just as we’ve seen a flurry of people and small companies making money from selling iPhone apps.
Alternatively, of course, for individuals it could be more the print equivalent of podcasts — a great way for people to distribute their own versions of existing media (radio), but not necessarily to charge for it. That’s not a terrible thing. Simply having an easier means of distribution, and a good way of consuming the media, is an improvement for people who want to publish on a low budget.
This isn’t a rigorous look at possible futures, and it’s far from objective; I’m actively looking and hoping for opportunities for small publishers of news because I want there to be alternatives to the existing ones. Maybe even ones I want to read.