Technocurious’s Blog

A pursuit of changes in publishing technology

Water or news – which has more value?

Posted by technocurious on May 26, 2009


An article on the Nieman Journalism Lab web site surmises that the path to understanding how to charge for news content may be found in the model used for charging for bottled water. Why would someone pay more per gallon than gasoline for something that is essentially free from your home faucet?

There is some suggestion that news has a very limited shelf life and once it is used, well, it’s been used. But what about that bottle of water? It may take less time to drink the water than read the newspaper so that comparison doesn’t “hold water.” And unlike water, news is something that can be retained for a long period and be useful in the future.

One of the commenters notes that there is some comfort or perceived value to holding the bottle of water and “using” or drinking from it.

My comment in response was that

…this points to the unfortunate truth that we don’t “value” news/information that causes us to “think.”

I can only “hold” that idea in my brain. Hopefully I can “use” it for something that benefits me or others. But typically that does not result in “immediate gratification.”

Maybe that’s the real difference – the timing on the satisfaction and payback for the investment. Since we appear to be living in a society that doesn’t value waiting for anything this may be the ultimate hurdle to the payment model for news.

Also to the point is that consumer products companies have figured out the marketing part of the equation. Newspapers do a lousy job of marketing their value. We don’t teach our kids the value of being able to “think.” Schools attempt to pour knowledge into their students but where is ‘critical thinking’ being taught. What class do our children take that teaches them how to look at information and separate fact from fiction, understand motives, be able to connect the dots?

Newspapers need to figure out how to market the value of their news. It’s not helpful that their potential audience is more interested in their latest tweet or text message than understanding the long term implications of Iran obtaining nuclear power.

But then many newspapers produce many more sensational headlines than thoughtful, insightful and investigative stories. These longer articles require the staffs that many papers are now laying off.

My suggestion is for newspapers to begin telling their readers newspapers are more important than bottled water, and more importantly, tell them why!

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