Guest Post From WannabeHacks: Over My Dead Body – Paying For The News
I discovered a new website recently: WannabeHacks . It is a resource for people thinking of entering journalism and media careers, and it is full of helpful tips and some interesting articles too. Their editor Jonathan Frost attended the Guardian Open Weekend recently, and wrote this interesting report on a session about paying for the news:
The last session I attended at the Open Weekend was arguably the most interesting. It posed a question about what readers are willing to give back to the Guardian: data, time, or money?
Most members of the audience, especially the more vocal ones, were diehard Guardian readers, with long-standing subscriptions. The average age must have been 50+, print was popular, and the Guardian was their sole source of news.
With regard to giving up time, some readers seemed happy with the idea of voluntarily moderating the Guardian comment threads (and I expect we’ll see it happening in future). Data caused some confusion, but most seemed happy to hand their details over once the concept of targeted advertising had been explained to them more clearly.
Money, however, is the big one. Would you give the Guardian money?
The panel chair invited a show of hands to get an idea of how many people pay for the Guardian on a regular basis. I was an exception, in that I don’t. I’ll read online for free; buying a full weekday paper just doesn’t suit me.
People glared at me like I was getting a free ride, and this wasn’t okay. The Guardian’s Commercial Director asked if people would pay £2.50 for the Guardian on Saturday, and this was met with lots of nodding and people raising their hands in the air, urging him higher. It was mad. When I piped up again and said I wouldn’t pay that, it was chaos.
The audience, on the whole, seemed keen on the idea of paying more for a print edition. The Guardian on Saturday will soon be raising its price to the suggested £2.50, and presumably they’ll then look at upping the weekday editions. I think to listen to the encouragement of the diehards is dangerous – this was not an accurate representation of the Guardian’s readership, and to raise prices as drastically as they were suggesting to £4+ would be damaging and alienating for the rest of their readership.
Then one audience member raised the curious issue of leaving money to the Guardian in her will. This idea, again, seemed popular: people wanted to leave some of their estate to the paper that they’ve read for a lifetime. Charities often ask to be remembered in the writing of a will, but not businesses. And the Guardian is a business, not a charity, regardless of how bad it is at making money.
Killing off readers is not a revenue stream. It conjures up very odd images of the Editorial team sitting around waiting for their readership to kick the bucket in order to fund the next edition of the paper, a sponsored coffin emblazoned with the blue g sitting nearby. Hardly a sustainable model for journalism.
Neither raising the price of the print edition, nor some one-time income from dead readers are reasonable solutions to the Guardian’s problem. The demographic that dominated in the discussion is one that is, morbidly, decreasing. And these are the people who pay anyway: they subscribe. They shouldn’t have to pay more, and try to cover the bill for the rest of the Guardian’s readers.
The Guardian needs to monetise me, and people like me. People who are reading for free, enjoy the Guardian, but aren’t anywhere near loyal enough to write them into a will. How to do this is another question entirely.