The decision to give our content away for free was the single biggest mistake publishers have made in the last 70 years, Juan Señor of Innovation Media Consulting told delegates at the PPA Independent Publishers Conference last week.
The remedy, however, is simple, in theory at least: publishers have to migrate their business model from ad-funded to reader-funded by charging for content. As a rule of thumb, reader revenues should make up at least 40% of digital revenues. Unrestricted access to our websites should be stopped and barriers put up, demanding money or data.
This is doable. The last few years have shown that, contrary to what experts previously thought, people will pay for content online. Juan referred to research that showed that most people currently have two digital subscriptions (one for music, one for movies) and this is expected to rise to four by the end of 2020, with the additional subs being for hobbies and news content.
As part of this journey, publishers need to wean themselves off the click-cocaine of pageviews: “The last thing you need is more visitors; what you need is more people to pay.”
Publishers should now be obsessing about what content triggers a subscription, as opposed to what content drives traffic.
There are two persistent delusions publishers need to rid themselves of: firstly, that they can build their business around Facebook and Google and, secondly, that there is a digital salvation just waiting to be found.
Facebook and Google look after their own interests and are quite happy to throw publishers under a bus if it suits them. As for the magic digital bullet, it’s a pipe dream. The solution is to work hard and focus on what we do best, producing great content, which we can charge people to read.
Because, ultimately, concluded Juan, only journalism will save journalism.