One of the topics that many people are discussing is whether newspapers should give away their news for free during a crisis (or just in general).
I have talked about this a lot on Twitter, but I want to give you a more in-depth look at the reasons why this is important not to do, specifically from a trend perspective.
Mind you, my concern here isn't about the short-term. In the short-term, giving your news away for free can be quite useful. It brings in a lot of traffic, it shows that you care and that you take on the role of protecting and informing society, and if done right, it can even give people a sense of appreciation that may lead to even stronger loyalty and support.
A simple example of this is from my own local newspaper. During the current crisis (COVID-19), it has made their coverage free, but added a notice that they are doing it to help, with a message that if people want to support them, they can subscribe.
And the result has been remarkable. Not only are they providing the news for free, but they have maintained the same level of new subscribers as before, and now it is from an audience who are subscribing with a greater feeling of support.
This is great. It's exactly the type of subscribers that you want! Their new subscribers aren't just randomly looking for news, they are actively choosing to support their local newspaper and their work.
I mean... wow!!
So, in the short-term, I have no problem with any of this. It sounds great, it delivers real results, and everyone is cheering!
My concern, however, is about the long-term, and how people change their overall behavior and expectations around news.
You see, if you only do this once, you get the result I talk about above. But if you do it over and over again, people no longer think about it as something special. Instead, it becomes what people expect you to do. It's suddenly the "new normal".
And this is what I'm seeing as a media analyst.
Over the past year, we have seen many events that have caused publishers to open up their paywalls and give away the news for free. Not just in relation to a specific crisis, but also whenever something else of importance might have happened.
The result is that we are teaching people that, whenever something important happens, the news is free. We are teaching people that this is just something that they should expect.
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