Charging for news, but not for the money

My colleague at Serra Media, Scott Falconer, recently returned from the South by Southwest Interactive Conference with an interesting idea about paying for news, based on the Guy Kawasaki/Chris Anderson keynote.

Using Photoshop as an example, Anderson said that a free web version of Photoshop would not seem as high of quality to users because we have been conditioned that a premium photo editing program costs $900, therefore a free version cannot be as good.

“To me, the same seems to hold true to newspapers,” Scott said. “It’s a semantic issue; calling something a blog holds its own expectations because it has always been free. The same goes for CNN/Fox News/Talk Radio. It’s all in perspective.”

He suggested a different subscription model that might differentiate a journalism start-up from the rest of the Webosphere: Put together a team of experienced, accomplished journalists to participate in a small online collective and charge a one-time, $10 lifetime fee to read it.

Less of a revenue model, it could improve the brand value of the organization.

Of course, you’d need to be creative with marketing and making sure word gets out. Scott, who is a tech guy and not a journalist, suggested leaving holes in the paid wall and leaking out a few logins/passwords so, suddenly, people would feel like they’re getting a deal. Throw some Twitter and blogs by the writers into the mix for extra exposure and it just might work.

Not for big media houses, of course, since they have huge legacy cost structures to replace. But maybe for start-ups running lean and mean, it could be a way to create instant brand value. You wouldn’t be able to charge much, of course. The Web is not littered with free Photoshop software solutions, after all. But membership makes a difference, as NPR’s growth illustrates.

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