There is no doubt that we are smack in the middle of the digital age. Information is everywhere, all the time, and easy to get. You're visiting websites like this to get information and news, and you want it in a timely, quick, and easily digestible format.
Many of the long-established traditional media are having trouble keeping up with the Information Age and its digital revolution. From the New York Times to the Miami Herald, times are tough. The music industry has struggled to fight the change, winning battles here and there but probably destined to lose the war in the end. Books and publishing are in a similar bind as digital readers and formats begin to cut into the traditional printing strategies used in the past.
Most of the smaller, more adaptable, and vibrant newspapers, like the New Times, have had little problem changing to meet the new age of digital information. Integrating their online and print editions into tandem beings, these smaller and more local print publications are merging advertising and other revenues into a workable solution.
Other solutions are a little more radical. Would you find the information in an online newspaper, for instance, valuable enough to pay for it? What if the payment were totally voluntary? How about online subscriptions to access news more quickly or before it's free to the public?
Several ideas for revitalizing dying revenues have been fielded and tried by newspapers and publishers recently. In the World Editor's Forum, Emma Heald talks about micropayment systems and some of the ideas that have been fielded for moving revenue streams away from print-centered media and toward the new web-based information exchange.
As it turns out, most newspapers are experiencing the same basic phenomenon: subscriptions are dropping while online visitors are rising. In most cases, the number of online visitors is rising at a rate exponential to the drop in print subscribers. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, numbers its print subscribers in the hundreds of thousands and its website visitors in the millions. It's not alone.
Publishers are leery of voluntary systems of payment, wherein visitors can give money according to what they can afford and what they think the service (news reporting) is worth. I would point out that those publishers are thinking in old-school terms and haven't awakened to the way things are now.
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Voluntary pay systems work and can be exploited to actually increase profits. Mike Masnick, longtime critic of old-thinking news publishers and owner of the Techdirt blog, has found revenue not by charging for memberships but by offering value-added services such as early access to stories, T-shirts, and even the ability to buy a day hanging out with him.
He's not alone. A Seattle-area coffee shop has turned to the same voluntary payment system with newsworthy success. The shop took down its price board, and servers simply tell customers to pay what they think their order was worth. Most of the time, customers pay more than what the original prices were for the items and the coffee shop's owner boasts higher profits overall. Even our very own South Florida paper, the Miami Herald, is practically begging for donations at the end of its articles.
Although some newspapers have successfully integrated their web and print editions, such as here at New Times, others aren't doing so well. Perhaps it's time for the big boys of traditional media to exchange their old-school thinking regarding revenues and readership and wake up to the new world that the digital information age presents.
Dead trees are so yesterday. Tomorrow belongs to the iPhone, the Kindle, and the PC.