When I think of newspapers, I think of tangible objects. Something folded, in front of me, immediate. I think of something I value for a short time, and discard. Something I can scribble on as I try to solve the crossword. I think of journalism, of investigation, of going beyond the headlines and the press statements to generate context, to aid understanding.
I used to think that also meant political impartiality. I reckon that's pretty much impossible, so at least a consistent partiality. But I digress.
Increasingly, I find myself thinking about profit. And in particular, if you are a newspaper how do you make profit from your web site?
I don't think The Times has it right. A blanket paywall is an instant turn-off for the casual browser. I used to read a couple of pages of The Times a month, and now I don't. Yes, my life is lessened by it and I miss reading Caitlin Moran, but it's not hugely lessened.
I don't think The Guardian has it right. Eveything is free, and apparently will stay that way. I read the Guardian on line quite a lot. I use it to dig in to the background of current events. I'll admit that I have some sympathy with its political bias and a generation-old love of its crossword. But I can see things it could charge for.
The basic economics of any free web site is that you give people something for nothing in order to generate income through secondary activity. In the glory days of the web, advertising was seen as the way forward. Eyes on pages mean occasional clicks on banners mean pennies in coffers. In addition, when the web was desk-based, it was hard to take on trains, and so the web site effectively acted as an advert for the more profitable dead-tree version.
However, with web ad revenue insufficient to fund a newspaper - particularly one with journalistic content and not just newswire regurgitation - there are a few areas where cashflow can be generated without putting the whole thing in a box and demanding money to see it.
One approach is to make the news free. This might mean splitting articles in to two - the first part giving you the gist and acting as a teaser for the second part that you have to pay for. If the quality of the first part is good, then the second part is more likely to be bought.
A variation on this theme - make the current news free, but charge for access to the archive. If you've got a big archive, people will value this.
Forums are pretty much essential these days. People want to be able to comment on your stories, no matter how fatuous their comments may be. Monetise this. Either require payment and registration to comment or make all comments anonymous unless you do. Vanity, thy name is profit.
Remember that the way people want to buy your articles will vary. Some people subscribe to newspapers, and some pick them up on a daily basis. Let people buy monthly passes, per article passes, individual issues. Let them rent articles, keep them in a digital locker and delete them after a licence period. Give people ways to interact with your newspaper that keep them coming back, and keep them looking for more.
Remember that corporate bodies are more likely to abide by any terms and conditions than individuals are. Target them. Do deals with companies to give "free" access to their employees, but get a steady corporate income as a result.
Essentially, your content is your advertising. Use it as such.