Media journalist Patrick Smith asks on this blog today How much is an article worth? His answer, as far as likely online readers are concerned, is very little.
This got me thinking. How much does a news article cost to produce? Journalism.co.uk is an online-only operation – a bootstrap operation as Kevin Anderson once called it – and obviously has much lower overheads than London-based national newsaper businesses. But if we could work out the cost-per-article for our own business, then that would at least provide a baseline guide to the likely costs to Murdoch et al.
Taking into account wages, expenses and a percentage of overall overheads (rent, bills etc), but discounting non-news-related administration, aggregation, tip of the days etc, we calculated the average cost of an article (feature, news story or blog post) to be around £37.00.
We have no intention of erecting a paywall around our news content, but if we were to, just to recoup that expenditure we would need 370 people to pay 10p each to read each article, or 3,700 to pay 1p each. In 2009, the average number of page views per article on our blog and main site was 440 (this includes all our aggregation posts, which probably skew the figure downwards slightly) but that means at current traffic levels we would need a model of 10p per article to be paid for by 84 per cent of our current readers.
Factoring in the much greater overheads of national newspaper publications, I would guess that the cost per article could be as much as 10 times the cost to us, perhaps around the £400 mark. I could be wildly off, and would be very interested to hear from anyone who has actually analysed this properly, but I think it is pretty obvious that there is a serious problem with the paywall model as a sole path to profitable news production.