If you are like me and see the great paid-content-business-model-search as 18 months of throat clearing so far, you may have noticed that the harrumphs have gotten longer and louder lately. Two related events in the last several weeks signal that the pace is picking up, and bigger experiments by bigger players may at last be ready for rollout.
Google has confirmed in a general way that such a service is in the works but said it was not yet ready to discuss details since the development phase is still in process. So, a detailed comparison of the two is not possible right now -- though Google seems to be focused on the end-user experience while Journalism Online leads with what it can offer publishers.
Journalism Online says it has developed 16 distinct pricing strategies
and that a given publisher can mix and match them depending on what content is being offered and what revenue strategy is being pursued. The package can easily be tailored to a limited paid content strategy in which most basics remain free, but there are fees for premium offerings and/or for heavy users (the so-called metered model).
Journalism Online, like the Google service, will offer users the opportunity to assemble content
from various participating publications and sites. It is not clear at this point whether a given publisher might choose to participate in both services, though there is no obvious reason why they could not.
And there are other existing and prospective vendors in the wings should paid content experiments, limited to date, ramp up significantly. When the Newspaper Association of America issued a "request for information" on paid content platforms last September it got responses from Journalism Online, Google -- and 11 others.
Randy Bennett, NAA's senior vice president for new products, told me in a phone interview that the September request for information was "a one-off effort to identify who the platform payers were -- to get that information to members. Then what they did with it was up to them."
The NAA did not endorse one or two best services, nor does it plan to, Bennett added.
At the NAA's April MediaXChange conference in Orlando, two companies -- Freedom and Dow Jones regional newspapers -- presented case studies on limited paid content experiments.
The results ranged from positive in small markets with limited competition to terrible where other strong sites, continuing to offer local news for free, siphoned off most readers.
Journalism Online has been in a high-profile business development phase for more than a year now with periodic announcements of hundreds of potential customers (though few actual users as yet). Brill, in a speech at a Denver conference earlier this week, said that he expects a dozen launches using his Press+ platform
in the next several weeks and 80 by the end of the year.
He also suggested that a full, online-only newspaper subscription should cost 50 to 60 percent of one in print.
The Denver conference on "Individuated News" provides a barometer of the quickening pace of experiments and vendor offerings. MediaNews Chairman CEO Dean Singleton said in taped welcoming remarks that two of the chain's papers will begin a metered system
, similar in concept to The New York Times', in July. Already, he added, the chain's flagship Denver Post is experimenting in homes and hotels with individually tailored reports produced on a small printer, with customized ads pitched to the content a user selects. (My colleague Bill Mitchell wrote about that effort a year ago.)
I'll second that. A meaningful payoff for vendors and publications is years off rather than months off. Still, after all the hemming-and-hawing and slow R&D, it's time to get started with real offerings to real readers.
CORRECTION: The original version of this post misstated Steven Brill's suggestion of what an online-only newspaper subscription should cost. Brill said it should be less than the cost of the print edition, not more.