Dow Jones circulation chief calculates, by platform, the news people will pay for

As Dow Jones senior vice president of circulation, Lynne Brennen probably sells more subscriptions on more platforms than any other American news executive.

Brennen was musing recently that “my job would be so much easier if I had a simple algorithm” that could predict a product launch’s odds of success.

A woman after my own heart, she sat down and made up such a metric.

Writing in the newsletter of the International News Marketing Association, Brennen proposes five attributes to measure “a consumer’s willingness to pay.” She also assigned a percentage weighting to each.

Keep in mind this is a measure not of what people would like to have as they consume news, but what they will actually pay for. What advertisers want is outside the scope of this particular exercise.

Brennen’s big five and the weighting she assigned are:

  • Broad reliability of content — 30 percent
  • Vertical nature of content — 30 percent
  • Longevity of content — 30 percent
  • Immediacy of information — 8 percent
  • Social “trustworthiness” — 2 percent

With that established, Brennen turned to the five main platforms du jour for news organizations and gave each a “commercial viability” score.

Print newspapers, with reliable content in durable form that can be read cover-to-cover in the course of a day, thus scored 60. That, wrote Brennen, reinforces “why the print newspaper model is the furthest along in driving revenue compared to digital platforms.”

Browser-based websites offer fairly similar content to the print edition. They get points for immediacy but are not so durable. So they lag print with a score of 38.

Smartphone access has little going for it except immediacy. The “limited real estate” to display content makes for an inferior news experience. She assigns a score of “about 10.”

Social platforms. While it is nice to know what your friends or colleagues think is worth reading, that does not seem to be a news and information value consumers will pay for. Depending on the content, Brennen gives a score of 2 to 10.

Tablets seem to possess all the attributes — comprehensive, readable but also offering “real-time feeds and social media.” Execution is not there yet, but Brennen identifies this platform as the most promising over time — potential score, 100.

New media enthusiasts will likely find Brennen’s metric and rankings old school. But she is not denying the digital wave, likely to be extended by “a host of yet-to-be-launched media,” some of which may hit a sweet-spot button to get consumers to pay.

I frequently hear publishers saying they feel they have to be on mobile phones, though those products have generated no significant money to date, either in subscriptions or advertising.

Perhaps the brand extension of a popular news alert is a business plus in itself. Perhaps there is a big advertising opportunity in mobile, geo-specific coupons, though I don’t see a necessary connection to a news product.

And maybe, as is the case at The New York Times and other news organizations, mobile will prove to be a welcome sweetener to any digital access package.

I’m starting to wonder, though, if the relevant question is whether a smartphone business model for news will ever get here, not when.

Check back in a couple of years and see whether Brennen and I are on the right track or dead wrong.

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  • Anonymous

    @redmonds Then, maybe I can be of some help. We’ve been trying to introduce different online payment solutions for about four years now and have some unique data and experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Lisa:

    This was a modeling/ thought experiment exercise, not a scientific study.  Ms. Brennen wrote that she was applying her experience to a perennial industry question.  That question, in turn, is different from just a few years ago now that smart phone, tablet and social media news products are part of the mix and potentially seeking paid subscribers.

  • Lisa Gardner

    How did she come up with the attributes and the weighting?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Philip-Claysin/100002732168601 Philip Claysin

    I just paid $22.87 for an iPad 2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, http://to.ly/aRG4

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Philip-Claysin/100002732168601 Philip Claysin

    I just paid $22.87 for an iPad 2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, http://to.ly/aRG4

  • Anonymous

    Edward, I suspect Ms. Brennen had in mind some of the financial information products of Dow Jones and its competitors, which pick up value by being well-targeted. 

    Greg, I think you are right that ease of payment matters and will more so as many papers add mix-and-match including smart phone and tablet options. I hope to write more about this soon.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    “Vertical content” is usually topical, for example: cars, health, travel. It’s a defined niche. — Julie

  • Anonymous

    what’s “vertical nature of content?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Greg-Golebiewski/1277073907 Greg Golebiewski

    Some excellent points. I would only add that the way in which a reader can pay for and access paid content is a major factor. For example, browser-based websites without an easy-to-use on-demand payment mechanism can compromise greatly its assumed immediacy. Same for the long-term subs plans, so popular these days; they can limit readers’ choices to a few sources one can afford — this might be good (in the short run) for the source but not for the reader who expects variety and different points of views.