Monday, August 24, 2009

Journalism Online Signs Up Newspapers, But Offers No Names

Back in April, I did my first post on Journalism Online LLC. The venture is the brainchild of Steven Brill, founder of Court TV, American Lawyer and Brill's Content; Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal; and Leo Hindery Jr., who led communications companies like Tele-Communications Inc., Global Crossing and the YES Network.

The partners want to allow publishers the Holy Grail in the news business now: the ability to charge for online content. With Journalism Online, a reader would go to a member newspaper to read a story on its web site. After the reader reached a certain point, Journalism Online would step in and ask for payment to see more of a story.

For those readers who read at many different web sites, you'd go directly to Journalism Online's web site and pay a one time fee -- Brill said $15 a month -- to read an unlimited amount of stories. Again, I'm all for models that help monetize the content we all work hard to get and get paid to produce.

The big question is how the venture would get newspapers interested in what they’re offering. It appears that interest is out there, as reports that Journalism Online “has letters of intent from newspaper publishers representing 506 newspapers, magazine and leading global news sites.” But none of the names of the 506 had been published, although speculated that its parent company, Guardian News & Media, is one of the signers.

“By creating a platform of flexible hybrid models for paid content that maximizes online advertising revenue while creating a new revenue stream from readers, Journalism Online has helped shift the debate over charging for online news from ‘if’ to ‘when and how,’” said Journalism Online co-founder Steven Brill in an Aug. 13 press release. “And now large numbers of publishers have moved past that abstract debate and are rolling up their sleeves to figure out with us exactly what kind of package is right for them.”

And then the Neiman Journalism Lab blog reported that Journal Communications, which publishes the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, has signed up for Journalism Online’s services. Signing with Journalism Online doesn’t necessarily mean the Journal Sentinel will decide to charge for more of its website, the blog said.

“We’re in the due diligence stage,” Sharon Prill, senior vice president for interactive media, told Neiman. “For now, it means they’ll receive consulting assistance and perhaps better technology for charging readers if they decide to go that route.”

Calls to industry players Dow Jones, McClatchy and Tribune found that none have signed up for the service yet. I'm all for models that help monetize the content we all work hard to get and get paid to produce. But here are my questions about Journalism Online:
• What incentives are there for a newspaper/online publication to participate?
• How many publications would need to participate to make the venture viable?
• How will the venture wean enough people away from the vast amount of free content out there to make money?

It will be interesting to see how this potential new revenue stream will evolve when – or if – more publications and news web sites sign on for Journalism Online’s services.

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