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Murdoch to Charge – Does Attention Economy now have its own recession?

Rupert Murdoch announces plan to charge for news content

Rupert Murdoch News Corp

So the announcement last week that Rupert Murdoch intends to start charging for newspaper content via his News Corporations newspaper websites came as a surprise to some.  Especially as Murdoch is widely credited with being the individual that introduced the Free-to-read premise of online newspapers.

Obviously the recession and falling newspaper circulation is behind this latest decision (NewsCorps profits slumped by 47%, advertising revenue in Britain slumped by 21%).  The strategy is being fuelled by the success of online subscriptions at the Wall Street Journal.

This is a completely personal opinion, but online subscriptions for a B2B publication, or one where you make expensive decisions,  is a completely different kettle of fish to consumer mass media publications.

Murdoch is determined to set the wheels in motions on these plans within twelve months.  So no doubt you regular readers of The Sun and The Times will be getting your cards out to get your subscriptions.  I didn’t think so!

Attention Economy

This story made me think about a previous post I made on this blog relating to Attention Planning.  Attention Planning in part works with the premise of the Attention Economy.   The Attention Economy is based on the fact that humans only have the capability to pay attention to a finite amount of information or a finite amount of messages.  With the rise of social media, the dynamics of the attention economy have changed, more and more information is available at an unprecedented pace and there are in increasing number of ‘editors’ that broadcast.  As a consequence our attention is become a scarce commodity, a valuable trading commodity.

Many site owners are charged with making sticky or engaging content.  Content that will make people want to return to their site time and time again.  Whilst this is a great move and is a great way of trying to attract people it is also contributing to the overload of information and making peoples’ attention an even more valuable commodity.

Why is it so important?

Well if you look at traditional economic measures for simplicity sake, the amount of money people have, founders of sites such as Yahoo, Facebook and Google became millionaire when there was no revenue being driven via their platforms.  Why?  Largely because investors know that is a site attracts thousandsMark Zuckerberg or millions of visitors there are definite money making opportunities through advertising or maybe even subscriptions.

People will trade e-Commerce properties before they have made a penny, in a number of cases while they are making big losses.  Everybody wants a piece of Twitter but how much money does it actually make?

Very few genres such as Twitter and Facebook experience such accelerated over-night success.  However, if you can targetted to your key area, tailor content to your particular audience, segment or niche you will have a great chance of gaining their attention.  Otherwise, at best they will skim your content, not take it in and are unlikely to return.

Back to Murdoch

So has Murdoch got it right if you consider the Attention Economy?  I would argue he is taking a short-term view on an issue to solve a long-term problem.  With the likes of the BBC distributing high quality broadcast information and the volume of information transmitted by individuals on Twitter and Facebook et al, I doubt it is a model that can be sustained.  That is unless NewsCorp can get content that is so unique people will pay the subscription.  Something that was overlooked in most of the debates, will Murdoch start charging for people to use MySpace?  I would imagine that would kill the community and drive the teens and 20-somethings to an alternative.

I would personally suggest NewsCorp need to look at their content.  Make it compelling and then gain revenues off the back of the increased visitors numbers.  But as Murdoch himself said “I am no economist”.