Walter Isaacson, a former editor of Time, is keen on micropayments as the path to salvation for newspapers. Scott Rosenberg pithily explains the problem with micropayments and Kay Steiger explains some of the other problems with Isaacson’s view.
But what struck me was the misunderstanding Isaacson has about advertising:
Henry Luce, a co-founder of TIME, disdained the notion of giveaway publications that relied solely on ad revenue. He called that formula “morally abhorrent” and also “economically self-defeating.” That was because he believed that good journalism required that a publication’s primary duty be to its readers, not to its advertisers. In an advertising-only revenue model, the incentive is perverse. It is also self-defeating, because eventually you will weaken your bond with your readers if you do not feel directly dependent on them for your revenue.
I’ve run both ad-supported publications and subscription-supported ones. One of the basics of publishing I learned very early on is that the one thing you can’t live without is readers. No one will want to advertise in your magazine (or newspaper or website or what have you) if no one is reading it. So wherever your revenue comes from, you have to serve readers first. So there doesn’t need to be any weakening of the bonds readers feel.