No One Pays To Be Informed

TV News Time

In the long ago days – maybe, 25 years ago – news was a daily affair and it was consumed in tightly controlled, pre-packaged formats and chunks. People read their newspapers and watched the local and national nightly news. The truly committed also read a newsweekly or two and maybe even *gasp* the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. What wasn’t reported in the local newspaper on Thursday or on the nightly news that night just wasn’t news until Friday, when it WAS reported. News cycles were more predictable and longer.

Everyone received the same news diet for almost no cost. TV news was over the air and free to anyone with an antenna and a TV set. Local papers averaged $0.25 to $0.50 per day off the shelf and less than $8.00/month on a subscription. Those crazy people who subscribed to Time or the WSJ, well, they were paying some bucks, but they were definitely not the majority of the news-consuming public. People didn’t pay to be informed, not really. And “being informed” simply meant you’d been exposed to the same news stories that the rest of the people around you had consumed through the limited means possible. Essentially,a news baseline existed for most of the population. So essentially, most people weren’t willing to pay to just ante into the knowledge game. And yes, this also meant opinions and info were to a large extent homogenous.

Nothing has changed, even though everything is different.

Think about that… cable news, the internet, blogging, citizen journalism, Twitter, real time news feeds: the methodology of delivery is different and the resources (time, talent, money) dedicated to gathering news are much expanded; but my local news is still available over the air for free and my local newspaper still costs a negligible amount. I may pay for access to the ‘net, but my news sources on it, Twitter, blogs, Google Reader… are all free. And I could go to the library or other public access point and get informed. So, while cycles are shorter and news is nearly ubiquitous, people still are largely unwilling to pay to be informed.

What have people always paid for? To be entertained. And I don’t mean any stupid hybridization like “infotainment” or “edutainment”. In a developed society, people EXPECT to be informed. It’s perceived as a right of the people and the mission of news gathering… like a higher purpose akin to medical care. Why would anyone pay for something they feel is a right? They won’t. With a few rare exceptions, this is why news subscription sites don’t work. Unless the news is specialized enough to be valuable as knowledge currency (insider information status as opposed to generally being informed), it’s not perceived as being worth paying for.

What I wonder is why magazines, who are already in the specialized information curation business, just in an expensive to produce and maintain print format, don’t continue their primary mission (entertainment) and CHARGE for the curation of their own and other’s quality, niche-specific information online. And why newspapers, who are in the public information business, in the same expensive to produce and maintain print format, keep trying to charge me to be generally informed online. If information curation is the next big thing on the internet, the people who’ve been doing it well for decades (think showbiz mags, home decor mags, cooking, parenting, yachting, golf… whatever) should be leading the way.

What do you think? Can magazine companies become curators and charge for content? Would you pay for quality niche-related content? Has that ship sailed… ?

photo credit: Flikr user Bruna Ferrara


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