What’s in a song? Lessons in value for the news industry

As a follow-up to my previous post in which I alluded to a new form of journalism, let’s explore the ways in which genuine value can be added to commodity news.

Consider this: Why are so many people willing to buy music online for 99 cents a song, even when it’s possible to get the same music for free? Here are a few possible reasons that might drive someone to open his or her wallet:

It’s portable and on-demand.
Nowadays, there are tons of ways to listen to streaming music on the Internet without paying a cent. But sometimes you’ll like a song so much, you want the ability to take it with you wherever you go and play it whenever fancy strikes. Paying to download an mp3 lets you move music to places without broadband or wireless connectivity.

It’s convenient.
A majority of consumers have decided that they would rather pay 99 cents than go through all the effort of other (and sometimes legally dubious) means. Apple’s iTunes store gives people a streamlined delivery mechanism from browsing, to purchasing, to deployment across various playback devices.

It’s (relatively) cheap.
With the Internet came the great unbundling of many products, the music industry serving as a prominent example. Gone are the days of having no choice other than paying $15 for a complete album, even if you only liked one or two of the songs on its track list. Compared to previous alternatives, the current price point for a song doesn’t seem all that bad.

It’s a shareable experience.
We love sharing music with our friends, whether its burning mix CDs as gifts, loading up a party playlist, or rocking out to tunes while on a roadtrip. When we discover an awesome new album or band, we want to spread the joy. Shared music is a form of social currency.

It’s meaningful.
There are songs that make you laugh, songs that make you cry, songs that make you want to get up and dance. It’s the ones that speak to you the most that end up in your permanent collection. Think about the songs you currently own. Why do you like them? How many of them describe the world, relationships, and everyday experiences in ways you can strongly relate to? If something adds meaning to your life, chances are you’ll want to keep it around.

So, what’s the takeaway for the news industry?
By the end of this little thought experiment, the ideal pay model for online news is remarkably clear and simple. This is it, in just three sentences:

Create content that showcases compelling and brilliant storytelling, adds meaning to people’s lives, facilitates socially enjoyable experiences, and/or provides useful information that solves a problem. Offer it in its entirety for free on the web. Charge reasonable prices for convenient delivery to multiple platforms and portable devices.

You’ll notice that in this model, people aren’t paying for content. They’re paying for the delivery — just like the way it was with newspapers. Ultimately, the quality of the content, and by extension its replay value, will determine whether or not someone thinks the delivery costs are justified.

Using this as our roadmap for taking journalism to the next level, we can start to brainstorm and experiment with forms beyond the mere news article. Here are just a few examples:

And that’s just the beginning. Can you think of more? Comment with your thoughts.

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