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Why Not A Reverse Pay Meter?
By Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine
As I ponder the future of The New York Times,
it occurred to me that its pay meter could be exactly reversed. I’ll
also tell you why this wouldn’t work in a minute. But in any case, this
is a way to illustate how how media are valuing our
readers/users/customers opposite how we should, rewarding the freeriders
and taxing—and perhaps turning away—the valuable users.
So try this on for size: Imagine that you pay to get access
to The Times. Everyone does. You pay for one article. Or you pay $20 as a
deposit so you’re not bothered every time you come. But whenever you
add value to The Times, you earn a credit that delays the next bill.
» You see ads, you get credit.
» You click: more credit.
» You come back often and read many pages: credit.
» You promote The Times on Twitter, Facebook,
Google+, or your blog: credit. The more folks share what you’ve shared,
the more credit you get.
» You buy merchandise via Times e-commerce: credit.
» You buy tickets to a Times event: credit.
» You hand over data that makes you more valuable
to The Times and its advertisers (e.g., revealing where you’re going on
your next trip): credit.
» You add pithy comment to articles that other readers appreciate: credit.
» You take on tasks in crowdsourced journalistic endeavors: credit.
» You answer a reporter’s question on Twitter and the reporter uses your information: credit.
» You correct an error in a story: credit.
» You give a news tip or an idea for an article The Times publishes: credit.
Maybe you never pay for The Times again because The Times has gained
more value out of its relationship with you. If, on the other hand, you
hardly do any of those things, then you have to pay for using The Times.
I’ve been thinking about this, too, in light of a few other trends
I’ve seen with newspapers online. First, some that are trying meters are
finding that very, very few readers ever hit the wall (which papers are
setting at anywhere from 1 to 20 pages). That so few hit the wall is
frightening. It means that most readers don’t use these sites much.
That’s nothing to brag about. Engagement is criminally low. Second, I’ve
seen many sites that get a surprising proportion of their traffic from
out of their markets—traffic that is valueless (or even costly, in terms
of bandwidth) to sites that sell only local ads. This comes from
following a goal of pageviews, pageviews, pageviews—brought in with
search-engine optimization—rather than valued relationships.
After hearing a few such stories, I suggested that a site with a
meter might want to reward local readers by giving them more free
content and charge out-of-market readers by charging them sooner.
You see, that values the local reader over the remote reader. My idea
for the reverse meter values the engaged reader over the occasional
reader — and even rewards greater engagement. And therein lies, I think,
the key strategic skill for news businesses online: understanding that
all readers are not equal; knowing who your more valuable readers are;
getting more of them; and making them more valuable.
Now I’ll tell you why my reverse meter won’t work: When I spoke with
all our journalism students at CUNY about their business ideas on
Friday, I asked how many had hit the Times pay wall — many — and how
many had paid — few. Abundance remains the enemy of payment. There’s
always someplace else to get the news. The Times can make its present
meter work because (a) it’s that good [the Steve Jobs exception that
proves the rule], (b) it’s still sponsoring—that is, giving a free
ride—to its most valuable readers, though that is supposed to end soon,
and (c) its engagement is still too low and thus many readers don’t even
confront the wall (that needs to change).
So never mind the idea of the reverse meter, but retain the lesson of
it: Value should be encouraged, not taxed. Readers bring value to sites
if the sites are smart enough to have the mechanisms to recognize,
exploit, and reward that value, which comes in many forms: responding to
(highly targeted and relevant) ads; buying merchandise; contributing
information, content, and ideas; promoting the site….
The key strategic opportunity for news sites is relationships —
deeper, more valuable relationships with more (but not too many) people.
This post originally appeared on Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine.