It will be interesting to see if Mr Murdoch’s innovation of charging for access to his newspaper’s online content works. We don’t know what he plans: My guess is just like the WSJ, he will simply ask people to pay to read the stories. I think that is doomed. As soon as The Times goes this way, people will swithc to reading the Telegraph or Guardian, their advertising revenue will double, and they have a business model again, having effectively lost one competitor. A which reporter will want to write for a tiny audience?
I can see several mechanisms for making papers and magazines highly successful today.
One very powerful tool would be to make a newspaper like The Times free to anyone with a “Times Buyer’s” card:
Advertisers would scan this card (for high-street and big-box purchases) or use it to authenticate via OpenID for online purchases). At a stroke, this creates a mass market for the paper (who wouldn’t take a free copy of media like The Times, Telegraph or Spectator?), and a verifiable but anonymous revenue stream from advertisers, as well as a motivation for consumers to let choose advertisers in their preferred media (while preserving complete anonymity for the card-holder, the card’s validity for free copies of The Times would be maintained by public-key encrypted notification of purchases.)
The media owners would receive an income stream from their advertisers/sponsors, based not on page views or clicks, but on actual purchases made anywhere, by anonymous, but authenticated buyers of their media.
Just 0.01% of each ‘subscriber’s’ annual purchases would make Media one of the biggest, most profitable, and potentially civilization-enhancing businesses on the planet once more.
More speculatively (say 5 years), once e-paper gets down to a price where a sheet of wirelessly self-updating paper can be given to each person as a loss leader (say £200 manufacturing cost, like an iPhone), I think Newspapers are in for their biggest business boom ever!