Thursday, May 06, 2010


Are we being “Superferried” by Peer News?

by Larry Geller

First, read this, just out in the LA Times:

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said the company planned to hold a press conference "in three to four weeks" to announce details of a new subscription model for news and other digital content.

People with knowledge of the situation said that Murdoch is poised to announce details of plans to form a consortium that would charge for news distributed online and on portable devices. News Corp. executives met with publishers last summer to discuss joining forces to collect fees from readers who access stories via the Internet or their gadgets. [Los Angeles Times, Murdoch to unveil paywall for news content soon, 5/4/2010]

Murdock presumably already has his paywall software because the Wall Street Journal uses it. With a few tweaks, he’s in business. And good business it will be:

"Now we're charging about $4 a week for the Wall Street Journal" on the iPad, Murdoch said. "And that is an introductory thing. I imagine over the years, that will creep up, and it doesn't cost a penny in incremental cost."

The Journal has attracted 64,000 subscribers since the launch of the iPad in April.

But what about smaller newspaper websites. Won’t they be looking for a system to get on the paywall bandwagon also?

A lot of money could flow through those paywalls if they indeed turn out to be the access mode of the future.

Now back to Hawaii, to Peer News/Civil Beat and to PayPal.

A lot of money could flow through PayPal if it were the access mode of the future.

After listening to the Bytemarks program on KIPO Wednesday evening with the Civil Beat guests, I am wondering about the project. I asked why there could not be simple (and less risky) password access, like other sites, instead of having to use PayPal in public places where the password might be stolen. I was surprised at the defense of using PayPal. Could PayPal really be the main thing here?

Reviewing in my mind many of the Internet startups, Twitter, Jott, etc. etc., they seem to follow one repeated pattern: Get the product going for free, get lots of users, see how it is accepted, fix it, then charge for it or for a premium service later.

Civil Beat started with a paywall in the form of a block that appears after a teaser paragraph. The articles are not (IMHO) terribly impressive yet. Only the paywall part is rock solid. And apparently the conversation has been dominated by, guess what, a few who are paying for that privilege:

Their start has been rocky. Take rail. It’s one of the initial core issues to be discussed on their Honolulu beat, but the comments have been dominated hijacked by Doug Carlson, a well-paid rail public relations consultant for the city, and Keith Rollman, a Hannemann campaign advisor currently listed on the city’s web site as “special advisor” to the director of the Information Technology Department, and Scott Foster, a public relations consultant often representing groups on the other side. [, Welcome Civil Beat’s “first edition”, 5/5/2010]

If they had wanted to do journalism, there are plenty of website templates that already exist that do a pretty good job. Just add great articles. So…

Maybe we’re being Superferried. Could the product not be journalism but the PayPall/paywall itself? (For those new to Hawaii: There was rampant speculation that the Superferry was only being proven in Hawaii for possible military use.)

eBay could offer PayPal as a proven system for managing signups, collections, and restricting access to those who paid. They take care of everything. And the newspaper just has to do what they’ve been doing all along, report on the news.



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