As old media rolls over into new content delivery, some rolling stones inevitably get stuck in the ditch. The surprising news this week is that The Daily Beast may be one of those lost stones. Spokesman Andrew Kirk reported that the company is considering a switch to a paid subscription model, where viewers would have to pay to read The Daily Beast beyond just a few free articles.
Hard on the heels of the news that Newsweek would stop printing paper copies and become digital-only at the end of 2012, this news is raising a lot of media eyebrows. The 2011 merger of Newsweek and the Beast created an awkward Frankenstein of a news publication duo. Newsweek content was directed toward more thoughtful, strategic customers, while the Beast created easy, quick reads designed for those who just want to lap up key news and get on with their lives.
Perhaps as a result, Newsweek/Daily Beast Co. has had a down year. Newsweek alone was going to lose more than $20 million this year prior to the plans to make it all-digital. The Beast was in the red, too, though not to such an extent.
“The sad moment has arrived when we must go forth with the editorial staff reductions that we discussed in person with all of you several weeks ago. Employees in the affected positions will be notified today. Much of this has already happened on the business side, and today we will be letting staff on the editorial side know where we will be eliminating positions,” reported editor-in-chief Tina Brown and CEO Baba Shetty in a company memo on Dec. 6.
Amidst these losses, the Beast is considered a metered subcription model to attempt a recovery next year. Users would be able to view several articles for free each issue, but they would have to pay for additional articles and specialized content. Plans for a paid subscription model for Newsweek have already been verified, and considering that the two publications are now conjoined twins, a similar plan for The Daily Beast seems likely.
Can Metered Access Work for the Beast?
Switching to a paid subscription model may be able to make The Daily Beast profitable once again … but only if the publication can retain its current customers. In this era of free blog content from wherever you want it, this is a doubtful assumption. Just ask The Daily, News Corp.’s now-failed iPad exclusive publication that required customers to pay only a dollar a week and still failed to bring in enough profit.
Customers of The Beast are used to free content. They expect free content. Customers of Newsweek may be more comfortable with switching to a metered access mode, but more casual consumers will not be impressed — especially not with the multitutde of news channel apps available. If subscribers continue to drop off, let the Beast stand as an important lesson in the modern era of the Internet article: Free news content should stay free. Paid news content, sleep with one eye open.
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