The immediate catalyst for this editorial was a post last month by A More Splendid Life, but really this topic has captivated us for some time.
As anybody in or near the media industry knows, there simply does not appear to be any way of making money as a provider of original (print) content. The Web has changed that. Advertising models have changed that and now the recession has hammered the final nail into its coffin. One’s best bet is to turn to recommending products or doing other things that “have little or nothing to do with the sort of long-form journalism and first person reporting we’ve come to take for granted from print media,” as AMSL puts it.
However, this conclusion assumes two things, both false:
1. That people are not willing to pay for content and
2. That there is no way to charge them in a way that is fair and effective and does not encourage piracy.
The first item should be a no-brainer, as human beings continue to pay money for books, newspapers and magazines. True, the latter two may not last much longer if current patterns hold. But that does not change the fact that paying for print content is deeply entrenched in the consumer psyche. The idea of receiving print content completely scott free is, by contrast, brand spanking new, having only emerged over the last 10-15 years.
The second assumption is admittedly more difficult, but it is only a matter of time before it, too, is disproved. Just last week there were reports that an “itunes model” for print publications is in the works. In fact, an announcement on its release may be imminent.
It’s about time. So how exactly would a soccer news business model work?
The idea is to have dedicated coverage for each Major League Soccer team. This is an area that has historically been underserved (at best) or completely ignored (at worst) by local newspapers. And yet the demand for news is certainly there. Just take the Philadelphia Union, the newest MLS team to begin play next season. The team has already sold 6,000 season tickets (as of six months ago!) yet does not have a single dedicated beat reporter from a major newspaper or wire service. That’s at least 6,000 individuals who are left wanting for news about their team.
Of course, if it’s going to attract paid subscriptions, such a news service has to be of the highest quality. The reports themselves have to be well written and will need to adhere to a simple, consistent style. More importantly, they will have to offer compelling content–exclusive stories, ideally–on a daily basis.
To accomplish this, a full-time beat reporter will be paid to follow the team, to attend its practices and road trips, to hound its players and coaches for interviews, to develop sources in the front office. This reporter will not only need to be experienced, but will also need to be equipped (and skilled in) the latest multimedia tools: a laptop to file stories, a Blackberry or iphone from which to send Tweets or shoot photographs; a mini camcorder to film videos. Estimated annual cost, including salary: $100,000 per team.
At least one full time editor will be needed as well. This editor’s duties will include assigning and editing stories (duh) and posting them to the Web site and filling in with reporting and writing duties where appropriate. He or she will also be expected to lend direction and management to the cause and should of course be able to edit videos as well as Webmaster the site where necessary. Estimated annual cost, including salary: $100,000 (total).
With 16 MLS teams, the cost would quickly skyrocket well into seven figures. Nobody, least of all nowadays, is going to want to put up this sum of money for a news media venture. Better to start with one team and have the editor double as a publisher, with a portion of the second $100,000 dedicated to marketing.
That’s still $200,000 for year one. What types of revenues might be expected? How much can/should such a site charge anyway?
A monthly fee somewhere in the $5-10 range should be realistic keeping in mind the cost of an individual magazine purchased from the newsstand. At the low portion of the range, an average of 3,334 subscriptions would need to be paid each month to break even at the end of the first year. That’s significantly less than the amount of people who put down season ticket deposits for the Philadelphia Union.
Obviously the math can and will change depending on the types of subscription packages that are sold. Readers could be encouraged to sign up for the whole year for a cost of 10 or 11 months, say. Various partners could get involved selling subscriptions in various capacities, in exchange for a portion of revenues.
The site would probably need to be ad-free if people are going to pay for it. But readers could be offered coupons for certain products (a pint of beer at the local tavern for the team’s next away game? Discounts on team merchandise from an online outlet?) that would result in more revenue for the site.
Does this sound like fantasy? Or might it be a realistic news model for the future? More importantly, would you, the fan, pay for such a service? Why or why not? Post your thoughts on the matter below. If you happen to have $200,000 burning a hole in your pocket, send it our way. Or tell us why you would not throw money at this cause.