Journalism’s Freemium Model

Reading this article about anonymous sources creating lazy, unreliable journalism makes me think a lot of the freemium business models everybody creating content is struggling with.

When the source of income is based upon ad impressions and page views, journalism is reliant upon being a breaking story – getting it first before getting it right. As much as we can say we dislike that model, it’s functional. Even with ‘low-value’ stories – I’ve fallen victim to it too. I’ve clicked on Buzzfeed links. Yesterday I clicked on an article about some celebrity I’ve never heard of. I’m not sure why.

The simplistic view is that we should just change the income source from ad-supported business models to subscriber-supported business models. If we compensate journalism (and musicians, and artists, and anybody else who deals in creative work) directly then maybe these problems could go away. But it doesn’t appear that journalism, or any other medium, can be realistically sustained on that. Think of how often people crab about New York Times paywalls.

Also consider app stores – paid apps often struggle to even get looked at because most mobile phone users simply don’t pay for apps. To get their apps onto phones developers often resort to in-app advertising or in-app purchases.

There’s no easy answer. I think we’re stuck between choosing imperfect but accessible content, or nothing – because premium articles and apps won’t get created unless there’s monetization at the end of the rainbow.