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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