By Miiko Mentz (@MiikoMentz on Twitter)
It’s now just a matter of time before newspapers try to start charging for online access to their stories, and it’s got me thinking: what is this going to do to Twitter and blog link love? I’m a huge proponent of using Twitter or blogs to share links and to click on links of interesting stories.
Sure, many blogs and online-only sites produce quality content, but let’s face it, many bloggers as well as Twitter users rely heavily on linking to “old” media sites, and I’m no exception. In fact, I’ll do it now. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that News Corp. executives have met with other newspaper publishers – believed to include the New York Times Co., Washington Post Co., Hearst Corp. and Tribune Co. – to discuss the creation of a consortium to charge online subscriptions or micropayments for access to stories on people’s computers, smart phones or other mobile devices. With ad revenue dropping and print subscriptions declining dramatically, I don’t blame the publishers for trying to come up with a new revenue-generating model to survive.
It’s questionable whether consumers will subscribe or simply switch to another news provider that will provide stories for free. The LA Times article quotes a former journalist who says it best: “The reality is that unless a lot of people who produce news act in unison to start charging for content, then individually they will fail,” said Alan D. Mutter, a former newspaper columnist and editor and consultant on new media ventures.
That’s a great point. And it also sounds like Twitter link love is going to potentially get less enticing. Say a friend Tweets a story about “Great Examples of How to Use Twitter in Business” – something I’d be interested in — and the friend provides a link via Bit.ly, TinyURL, is.gd or some other URL shortener. Today, I rarely click on a link and see a “need subscription” notice. (I mean, the main Washington Post Web site currently requires a free username and password, but when I view the site on my iPhone, I can see the stories without ever having to log in. And I do a lot of my newspaper reading on my iPhone). But with a consortium in place to charge for online content, I bet I’ll be gunshy about clicking a link when 75 percent of the time, I get a need subscription notice.
Every time I click on a URL shortener, I will wonder: is this free? Will I have to pay and need to subscribe? Worse yet, what if I have a micropayment plan in place and the story sucked and was really, “Rudimentary Examples of How to use Twitter in Business and Unless You’re a Moron, You Won’t Learn Anything New If You Read this.” It may cost me five cents to find out, but still, five cents is five cents and it adds up.
Online subscriptions and micropayments will also affect me when I tweet. If it’s a breaking news story I want to share with my friends and colleagues, and I want to ensure they can see it for free, I’ll have to dig a little harder to find free links. Rather than linking to SFGate for example, I might have to find a small town daily newspaper that links to AP stories for free.
I know I’m throwing out a problem that doesn’t yet exist, but it’s something to start pondering. Perhaps maybe when we tweet a link that requires a subscription, before the link you put (NS) as an identifier that the story needs a subscription. It’s something the Twitter and blogging community at large could find a solution for.
Then again, this newspaper consortium can try to charge for a few months, realize it’s a complete disaster, and revert back to free again.