Gray Flannel Dwarf

6/9/2004

The Balkanisation of Online Media

a.k.a. “The Balkanization of Online Media” as an alternate spelling

Just a few, quick unsorted thoughts regarding some observations I’ve made lately.

Ever since the dot-com boom began its precipitous ascent, one thing that was always on the minds of the pundits was that Big Media was having, and would continue to have, Big Trouble trying to compete on the internet. The argument went that traditional media model revolved around “paid media”, tangible or semi-tangible, whereas the internet model revolved around “free”. “How can anyone compete with free?” was the question always asked.

Eventually, the media outlets began using online ads to try and absorb some of these costs, and some have had varying success. The fact that online advertising has skyrocketed after post-boom slumps only seems to support this.

So why, then, have media companies started retreating back into something of a closed-access model?

Yeah, the New York Times has been doing it for years, requiring readers to register, in order to view the articles. Recently, the Washington Post began doing the same thing, as have any number of other publications. A simple search for any particular story of interest via Google News will return many results, whereupon generally about 1/3 of the results are “subscription-only”.

This is what I mean by the “Balkanisation” of online media. If media companies feel I — or anyone else for that matter — am going to register individually to read 150 different news sources, they’ve gone mad, especially considering that probably 75-90% of what you see in the papers is AP/UPI content — or at least heavily reliant thereon. The Balkanisation was pretty much aided by geography early on, but we’re in a global economy now. Are they trying to revert back to those days?

Now, perhaps that is the point — any one of these newspapers is vying for readers’ loyalty. But doesn’t this seem backwards? Vying for loyalty by forcing people to register in order to read the content? I dunno, that just doesn’t seem to jive.

However, if I find a story, perhaps via Google News or via other methods, and I am continually being required to register…
1) I probably won’t read the article at that site and/or I will find another place to read it,
2) I will begin reading my news from alternate sources on a more permanent basis, or
3) I will just find something else that catches my interest.

Really, it wouldn’t surprise me if, in the next 6-18 months, we start to see a lot of these media companies use a shared login/registration mechanism; it seems to me to be the only way they can at least try to both obtain their metrics and maintain/augment their readership. Even this, though, I feel would be a stumbling block for the media.

In the end, I am just somewhat surprised to see newspapers and the like reverting back to this sort of walled-off revenue model, especially when the ad market is obviously picking back up… and while I can almost understand paying for a “premium” service which might aggregate news sources to your liking, or might provide richer content, I don’t see how paying — even in mere terms of one’s own personal information — for flat, mostly-syndicated content is going to work.

Update: Referenced in Penenberg’s article.


cswiii @ 10:33 am