Sometimes, readers will pay for content

April 15, 2009

A story’s been making the rounds lately that online magazine The Tyee has successfully solicited its readers for funds to cover the costs of covering the upcoming BC election.

Says editor David Beers, in a letter to readers:

As the corporate media model melts down worldwide, and the CBC is stripped, Tyee readers have a chance to show a way true investigative reporting can be supported. … be assured every penny will go straight into more journalism between now and voting day, and we will keep you apprised of how and where your money was spent.

I think it’s an interesting case. Everyone inside the media industry knows that supporting quality journalism on online ad revenue alone is a long shot at the least. But the Internet age has trained the general public – all of us, really – that content should be free, and that anyone can be a journalist. Here, The Tyee is telling readers that journalism requires resources, reporter time and the money it costs.

The question is, is this a one-time case? Or is it a sign of the times? And would it work for other publishers?

The answer: it depends. Here, The Tyee is asking for funding for a special, short-term project, one that is close to the heart of many of its readers (who, if I can hazard a guess, are less likely than the average to be huge fans of the current BC premier). Would requests work as well if they came every month? Probably not. Donor fatigue would set in.

And would it work for a more mainstream publisher, one who published less “important” or “essential” information? It’s hard to say, but probably not, if it’s information they can get elsewhere. What makes this case special is that The Tyee is local to BC and specializes in BC, and has a perspective on local politics that no one else shares. They occupy a unique slot in the market and their readers appreciate that.

That being said, if you have the right project, it would be worth a try.

What do you think? Is this a special case, or is the model applicable to the industry at large?


One Response to “Sometimes, readers will pay for content”

  1. Tanja Hutter Says:

    Hi Kat,
    I think you’re right. Although no longer a Vancouverite, I subscribe to the Tyee. The election project is resonating with a core group of people. I would go farther and say that not only would this readership not be a Campbell fan, but that they are more politically active/aware than the average citizen. If they aren’t finding their voice within mainstream media, then they would value someone making the effort to cover their perspectives of what government should be doing.

    Also, the Tyee did a good job with their Campbell cash campaign last year where they got people to post environmental pledges for the money Campbell was doling out.

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