The “folly” of free news online

Replicating the print product online exactly is madness – because the digital audience wants something different. Not looking at digital data and letting it influence the news agenda in the newsroom because you believe journalists know what the audience want is madness. Assuming that just because people tell you they don’t buy the paper because they read it online means they’re reading your content exactly the same way online as in print is madness.

Superb piece by David Higgerson on the supposed folly of giving away news content for free, and the bigger issues that make it hard for newspapers to make money online.

The idea that print news organisations could have solved all their current woes by charging online from the start is seductive, but – as David says – it’s also wrong. There are plenty of other things papers got wrong in the early days that are causing long-term ill effects: lack of archives & link rot caused by crazy self-deleting CMSes; refusal to participate in standard web link economy; shovelling content to the web without making it web-friendly; assuming print editors understood web audiences without giving them any tools or training to help them do so.

Lack of early investment online is a less seductively simple explanation for current difficulties attracting and monetizing an audience, but laying it all at the feet of a failure to charge is telling a simple story in place of a complex one, and missing a big opportunity to learn.

Edited to add: via Adam Tinworth, this piece on separating print and digital is an excellent read on another area of local print news’s shaky moves online.