Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners has posted an interesting article about the future of newspapers. In the article he cites an opinion piece written by Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, who states that papers should keep a majority of their content behind a pay wall. Papers like the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Wall Street Journal (both require paid subscriptions to access online content) have enough exclusive content that readers want and will pay for. For local papers, it’s local content (in Amsterdam, our local paper is Het Parool with regular features on drunken English tourists falling into canals or under a tram). If you want to know what’s going on in Amsterdam by neighborhood, you have to read Het Parool.
For international business papers like WSJ and Financial Times, their advantage lies in their in-depth coverage and analysis of business issues. I have online subscriptions to both papers.
A newspaper that does well online and in print is Le Monde. I have a subscription to the online edition (which also allows me to download the paper in PDF format everyday). However, what bothers me most about these papers is that if you post a link in your blog to one of their articles, that link expires after a period of time. The article goes behind a paid wall. I realize that is the paper’s model but it makes me less likely to post a link to their content.
What this gets to is one of the core premises of business – find your unfair advantage. For now, the Journal and the Democrat-Gazette have an unfair advantage; for the former in the coverage and analysis of business news, and for the later in coverage and analysis of Arkansas news. One could argue that over time these too could come under threat from bloggers both national and local, but for now their news is worth a premium. (As an interesting aside, the free daily BostonNow is now including some local bloggers in its print edition.)
But how do free newspapers fit into this landscape? What will they do to traditional papers? Will they last? Can they depend on advertising alone?