Up Against the (Pay)Wall

Traditional publishing, like God, is dead — at least as an industry. Like Pluto, publishing has been demoted: It is now simply a “function” — among many others — of business. And all because of the digital revolution.

We no longer access information the way we used to. Like the power of the Catholic Church being overthrown with the invention of the printing press, so too is the publishing house’s hold on published content being tossed aside by self-publishing. And the days of print newspapers are numbered because consumers simply don’t want what they offer — or maybe, more accurately, don’t want the format they offer — anymore. The Internet allows us to easily gather info — free info — that we can tailor to our own preferences.

So I was surprised with the news today that Postmedia is establishing paywalls for online content of its dailies. Of course, they’re hardly the first to do so, but I was hoping they were holding out because they saw the error of that way of doing business.

For newspapers, print sales are dwindling, and thus so is ad revenue. But with favourite journalists publishing their own columns in ebook format and with the availability of numerous online news sources, the standard dailies aren’t going to survive with their paywall revenue. Not enough consumers will pay, and consequently not enough advertisers will either.

Today’s consumer no longer wants to be known as a consumer. Consumers find community online, they want to share with one another, they want to be participants in both content and advertising. Do newspapers offer the content (for example, videos) that people want? Do book publishers offer ebooks that are reasonably priced, easily accessible, and free of digitally managed rights?

As an editor, I want to be paid well for helping create great content. And I think the community will pay for great, accessible, reasonably priced content. But in the case of newspapers, the content package is no longer in demand, and in the case of books, the revolution is not yet complete. But some publishers have embraced the future like modern-day Gutenbergs.

Like a lot of things in life, it’s a waiting game.

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