I’m trying quite hard to stay out of the business of chasing after curmudgeons with a laptop in my hand, shouting “But you got it all wrong!”
Trying. Quite. Hard.
So let this be just a generic blanket response to a common misconception about the business of online news.
The premise, as laid out in hand-wringers running in handsome op-ed columns in handsome print editions all over the world, periodically:
If only newspapers had charged for online access to the news when this whole Interweb thing got started, they wouldn’t be in such a mess right now.
This, my friends, is a false assumption.
So here’s the deal: Putting the news behind a paywall as early as, say, AOL’s heyday – or earlier if you prefer – would have actually served to accelerate the rise of blogs, citizen media, and flight away from news-on-paper.
Because pulling your content out of the stream of connections that is the Web would have led to members of your community making even more connections themselves, without your help.
Newspapers would have essentially ceded the public forum to the public, an admirable and honorable move, but not a profitable one.
Make it harder for a person to get informed about their surroundings through your product all you want, but please don’t walk around assuming you’re The Only Game In Town.
That’s a topic for a different post, but rest assured that your readers know how to communicate with each other without your help.
They’re not as dumb as you think.