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Hyperdistribution Vs. The Pay-Wall

The moment Rupert Murdoch fixed his pit bull-like grip on the idea that ad revenue alone can't support newspapers, free Web content seemed doomed. Last week's news that his cronies are meeting with top publishers to create something of a pay-wall consortium ostensibly sealed the deal. Yet, plenty of behavioral data exists to indicate that the vast majority of non-specialized news consumers don't have destination-seeking in their DNA.

Indeed, new analysis from the Newspaper Association of America, based on Nielsen Online data, finds that less than 1% of time spent online is spent on newspaper sites, and that newspaper sites presently drive less than 1% of total pages views online. (In case you're wondering, that's among the total "Active Digital Media Universe," which is Nielsen's term for the 195,974,309 U.S. unique monthly visitors online, both at home and at work.)

"The dialogue in the industry should not be about building pay-walls, punishing aggregators, tweaking copyright laws or anything else that would constrict, rather than build, the online audience for newspaper content," longtime newspaper executive Martin Langeveld writes on The Nieman Journalism Lab blog. "The dialogue should be primarily about transforming newspapers into online-first digital enterprises."

Jeff Jarvis, arguably the free Web's greatest proponent, insists that success for newspaper publishers lies in "hyperdistribution."

"Since when did it become OK for media people to shrink their audiences?" Jarvis asks. "Since they gave up on the ad model, that's when. But I am not ready to surrender to the idea that advertising, which has supported mass media since its creation, is over." Rather than a justification for paid models, falling ad rates, Jarvis adds, are all the more reason for publishers to attract larger "publics," along with more targeted and valuable communities.

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