Evan Williams on media business models

He writes,

The reason quality — of content and experience — has gone down in publishing, not up, despite the power of competition and technology, is because publishers are competing for advertiser dollars, not audience dollars. Business model is gravity. Once publishers are competing for audience dollars, the product they produce will get dramatically better.

…The average thinking, reading person reads from dozens of sources per month. Even if they were very cheap, there will be subscription fatigue. Cognitively, and economically, people will be able to rationalize a handful of content subscriptions at most (in addition to their 2–3 music/TV subscriptions).

There is not much difference between what Williams is arguing for today and what I wrote in 2001. This is one of my old essays that still holds up pretty well.

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6 Responses to Evan Williams on media business models

  1. uair01 says:

    Do you expect a Netflix-/Spotify-like subscription model for newspapers? I would certainly subscribe to that! We have Spotify at home, but my favorite subscription is Audible, which emotionally feels like very good value for money.

  2. collin says:

    TBH, I am not quite sold here on subscription is going suddenly explode the next generation and the free internet news has been here 20+ years. So what will suddenly change it as most families don’t have much extra cash sitting around these days.

    Secondly, I don’t believe the quality will improve but we will continue to get content more defined by our belief system. In reality the greatest thing for NYT and WaPo was the election of Donald Trump increasing subscriptions 50% and the worst thing for the NRA was the election of Donald Trump with declining gun sales.

    • Butler T. Reynolds says:

      “the worst thing for the NRA was the election of Donald Trump”

      A friend of mine who is involved with a firearms advocacy group (not the NRA) told me that David Hogg has been a boost to their enrollment and donations.

  3. Matthew Young says:

    The members are going to be unified by their shared interests, including buy and sell. .Ads are part of the membership, the group members limit them by relevance, Telegram offers buy and sell transactions along with messaging.

  4. Handle says:

    I really don’t know what the overall market demand for various options will be. But I do know that I’m one of those people who consume a lot of information online (so a potential target for info-subscription sellers), and that I’m also very reluctant to pay for subscriptions to most existing newspapers or journals, because most of the content isn’t worth it or even has negative value for me: the aggregation model doesn’t work in my case.

    But I might pay for one thing: curators. People – individual aggregators – whose go through the huge world of written work so I don’t have to, and whose taste one likes and trusts.

    The three obvious examples that come to mind (individual mileage may vary) are Drudge, Tyler Cowen, and Glenn Reynolds, and there are plenty of other people who send out enough worthy links per day or week that might join the club.

    Point is, a lot of that stuff is gated / subscription only / “account needed” only, etc. Not insurmountably so usually, but enough to be annoying or even prohibitive to most people.

    Would I pay Cowen a few bucks a month to always have access to the content of every link he provides without ever having to log in or subscribe or pay anything else, never having to think or worry about it? Absolutely.

    Whether that business model can actually be made to work for everyone both technically and economically is a good question; I’m just spitballing here. But I wish the option existed.

  5. Butler T. Reynolds says:

    I’m surprised that there aren’t more services that go for only $1 / month. Maybe even less.

    As a teenager in the 80s, I loved to visit video arcades, though I was too cheap to spend my money there. I was always curious why all the games were a minimum of $0.25. So many of the machines sat idly for long stretches of time, burning up the same amount of electricity.

    If the machines took other coins, then less popular games could charge a nickle or dime to play. I would have gladly poured dimes and nickles in to those cabinets.

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