“A la carte” press: Will journalists become brands?

Article  by  Karin DANJAUME  •  Published 24.05.2013  •  Updated 24.05.2013
[NEWS] The online press is still seeking a business model. After paywalls, a new trend has emerged: “à la carte” press. These experiments are emerging from new modes of consumption, and may shape the media of tomorrow.
 The Web, which celebrated its 20th birthday in April 2013, is now woven into a number of aspects of our daily lives, and notably how we consume news. In terms of being shaken up by the digital revolution, the press is at the top of the list. Internet and its news sites, alongside the arrival of free daily media, have sounded the death knell for the flourishing of print. While the written press has not died out altogether, it is struggling for survival, and contrary to popular belief, digital versions of newspapers could very well provide life support. The latest figures concerning the American media, published in late April 2013, are telling: certain titles such as the New York Times have been “reinvigorated” by a steadily growing online readership.
According to a Pew Research Center study of the American media released in March 2013, “paid digital offers reduce dependence on advertising”, placing the quality of content back into the focus. Online editors have gradually understood that what costs so much to produce can’t be made available for free. News sites such as Mediapart that function via a subscription model, and those that have implemented a paywall system[+] NoteThis limits the number of articles that can be read for free on a site, asking users to pay once the threshold is reached.X [1] have already grasped this.
With the multiplication of offers, readers have changed how they consume news. Drowning in a flow of data that must be endlessly filtered (Twitter, RSS feeds), they have become more demanding, as well as more active. Readers become their own editors-in-chief in this new age of curation, as evidenced by the success of applications such as Flipboard, which allows users to create their own magazines. With online media, readers simply reproduce behavior already observed with print: they do not read the whole newspaper. Why pay for the entire publication when only one section is of interest? This is how the concept of “à la carte” press has emerged: readers only pay for what they want to read, with a predefined budget. The concept is furthermore not so new, with traces dating back to 2006. “A la carte” press also stems from the paywall logic, and is even sought as an alternative by paywall skeptics.
The idea is gaining in popularity, with experiments such as CrowdNe.ws, a sort of “iTunes for articles”, that have been launched. In the Netherlands, a startup created De Nieuwe Pres (DNP) in February 2013, a site and application offering subscriptions to individual contributors for 1.79 euros per month, although how and how much these contributors are paid is unknown. By the evening of its launch, the application had already been downloaded 20,000 times. For now, the term “experiment” is heard quite often, and was also used by the Daily Mail during its April 2013 announcement of its intention to place premium paid content online, while emphasizing that this does not entail a paywall. By their own admission, the main motivation for the heads of the Daily Mail is to fully benefit from the opportunities offered by the rise of mobile and tablet reading. With 110,650,756 global monthly unique browsers, this plan seems more than plausible. Meanwhile, other established media outlets such as Wired and The Wall Street Journal are banking on the e-book format, republishing long investigative reports and essays. The idea of promoting content quality and no longer bowing to Web-imposed short format articles remains. But are readers willing to take out their bankcard when a click leads them to paid content?
“A la carte” press is compared to a marketplace for journalists, said to be directly selling their articles to readers. Underlying questions linger: will the price of an article rise according to its popularity, or that of its author? If articles become products, will journalists become brands? “A la carte” journalism could fit the bill for freelance journalists or newcomers seeking to make a name for themselves (or simply sell their articles). Personal branding, already extremely present on Twitter, could then reach new heights. Will journalists become increasingly solitary beings, detached from their newsroom? The cards may be redistributed once and for all, opening up a theoretical discussion on the future of the very concept of newsroom.
Translated from French by Sara Heft
Photo Credit: rene.schaefer / Flickr
  • 1. This limits the number of articles that can be read for free on a site, asking users to pay once the threshold is reached.
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