To do that, Brill -- along with former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, and Leo Hindery, the former head of Tele-Communications, Inc. -- recently embarked on a venture to help publishers charge readers for full access to Web sites, single articles or packages of related content.
"It's all up to them," Brill said of publishers' freedom to bundle and monetize their own content as they see fit.
When it launches, Journalism Online -- so-called -- will provide consumers with a single account to subscribe to different publications across various platforms.
Backed by private investors, Journalism Online will attempt to package and market content under a variety of brands. "We will pay the cost of building this type of Web site," said Brill, adding that the company then will take a cut of subscription revenues.
While considered a dead model by some, paid subscriptions have had success in certain content verticals. The Wall Street Journal, for one, presently claims over 1 million paying subscribers, each of whom fork over $103 a year.
With regard to new subscription models, Journalism Online is not the only game in town.
Newspaper and technology consultant Alan Mutter is currently pitching an online registration service that would track Web users as they read articles on an array of publisher sites. Owned by its participating publishers, the ViewPoint venture intends to compile personal data profiles comprised of demographic information and reading histories. Naysayers of such efforts find it hard to believe that consumers will ever pay for content that they currently get for free.
"How do you get people to start paying for something that's already free?" asked Sean Nolan, VP of online operations and external online marketing at Rodale, from OMMA Publish.
Hogwash, said Brill. "Publishers need to shed their inferiority complex," he said, explaining that most individual newspapers already have the critical mass they need to succeed.
Brill insisted that publishers can easily convince at least 10% of their monthly visitors to pay subscription fees, while maintaining the vast majority of their non-paid traffic.
Brill has also hired antitrust lawyer David Boies to help publishers negotiate better terms with Amazon. "How can Amazon be extracting 70% of subscription fees and controlling the consumer relationship?" Brill asked.
Rather, Amazon should make its money by selling Kindle devices, and leave the subscription fees to the publishers. "It's like if Sony told HBO that it wants 70% of what people pay for its content because people watch it on a Sony television."