OPINION

The value of news to its primary audience is highest, but the ability to generate revenue to news publishers is at its lowest. How can we fix this?

In times of crisis,
people need reliable, informed and accurate journalism. That journalism needs
to be accessible to the widest possible audience, both on a national and local
level, and particularly accessible to those most vulnerable.

Many publishers
have partially dropped their
paywalls
in response to the recent COVID-19
pandemic, allowing their readers access to urgent information in the interests
of public safety. The rate of digital news being consumed – both in page views
and time spent per article – has been steadily rising since the start of the
crisis, and has jumped up by over 50% in the last few days for some US publishers. It’s a time when readers need journalism
the most.

But reliable,
high-quality journalism costs money to produce. And when the situation is
developing as quickly as it is, and with restrictions on newsrooms preventing
usual ways of working, the cost of keeping readers updated is high. Typically,
publishers supplement free-to-read content with advertising revenue; but
advertisers have blacklisted terms relating to the pandemic to avoid any potential negative brand association, leading to a
massive collapse in advertising revenue.

It’s not
realistic for news to be free, but it’s also not realistic to expect every
reader to subscribe to every site they want to see: now, more than ever,
readers want and need a plurality of sources and opinions. In particular,
readers need access to local news sites as well as national titles, so that
they can monitor developments in their community and the changes that will
affect them the most directly.

Advertising-dependent
publishers, responding the best they can to this crisis, have been left in some
cases with little to no revenue. With paywalls down for the news most in
demand, and advertising revenue crashing, the industry has found itself in an
unprecedented, rather unique situation: when the value of news to its primary
audience is highest, the ability to generate revenue to news publishers is at
its lowest. With this crisis set to last months, this new status quo isn’t
sustainable for long.

This current
emergency has highlighted the absolute necessity of news to society on a local,
national, and international level. It has also highlighted the unsustainability
of the industry’s current business model, and the necessity of changing the
model to one that stands up in times of crisis and can protect journalism when
we need it most.

The overall
unsustainability of the status quo is the reason we created Axate. Casual, uncommitted, frictionless payments for media open up more
products to more users and vice-versa. A straightforward relationship between
publisher and consumer, independent of advertising and with few if any barriers
to entry, is simply a more sensible way – not just now, but even after the
crisis has passed. And, in response to the unique situation this crisis has brought
about, we’ve added the new functionality: the option to ‘pay if you can’,
letting readers support publishers but without locking them out of urgent
information.

In the last week,
we’ve seen the existing orthodoxies around internet business models for news be
completely reset. But this doesn’t have to signal a crisis in journalism: we
can take this opportunity to adapt to this new situation, just as fast as it
has changed. We just need to think a little bigger.

Sameer Padania,
an expert in journalism and innovation, recently tweeted: ‘When things settle down after the worst of the pandemic, I think
many societies will look at their journalists and other critical parts of their
information infrastructure with new eyes and respect – and perhaps more support
and investment.’  

Let’s hope he’s right. The opportunity to emerge from this with better, stronger journalism and even a better internet is possible.

Dominic Young, Founder & CEO, Axate

AboutAxate is a centralized digital wallet system that lets readers pay on an article-by-article basis. Users upload money to their Axate wallet and can spend it across Axate-enabled sites. Based in London, Axate was founded in 2017 by Dominic Young who previously held senior positions at News UK and News Corp.

The post More valuable than ever, but less revenue: Coronavirus has shown us that the news industry needs to change appeared first on What’s New in Publishing | Digital Publishing News.

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