About 150 US news sites have some sort of paywall (give or take 150 or so). Some are hard, some are soft and some are in between.

All have been written about extensively.

But what if we looked at walls from an entirely different direction? Google’s done this with their Consumer Surveys. Instead of asking readers to pull out their wallets to access content, they’re asked to answer a single question. Think of it as a Surveywall.

Frédéric Filloux describes it like so:

Eighteen months ago — under non disclosure — Google showed publishers a new transaction system for inexpensive products such as newspaper articles. It worked like this: to gain access to a web site, the user is asked to participate to a short consumer research session. A single question, a set of images leading to a quick choice.

The solution is one that’s beautiful in its simplicity. Market research is an almost $30 billion industry. And while a lot of it is much more than having people answer surveys, a lot of it is people answering surveys.

So what if you target surveys to, say, readers of certain sections of The Miami Herald, or Wired, or Car and Driver. The researcher wins because it’s a lower cost solution than traditional outreach. The publisher wins because they’ve gained a revenue stream by running the surveys. The reader wins because her wallet stays in her pocket.

There are caveats, of course, which Frédéric outlines:

In theory, the mechanism finally solves the old quest for tiny, friction-free transactions: replace the paid-for zone with a survey-zone through which access is granted after answering a quick question. Needless to say, it can’t be recommended for all sites. We can’t reasonably expect a general news site, not to mention a business news one, to adopt such a scheme. It would immediately irritate the users and somehow taint the content.

I’m not so sure it’s unreasonable. Different, yes, but the entire digital enterprise and the economics behind it is different.

The solution though reminds me of reCAPTCHA, an initiative started at Carnegie Mellon and now run by Google to crowdsource book digitization by harnessing a few seconds of millions of users’ time by having them enter the text they see in a traditional CAPTCHA box (the first word is machine readable, the second isn’t and that’s the one that Google hopes you can decipher).

As Google explains:

About 200 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that’s not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day. What if we could make positive use of this human effort? reCAPTCHA does exactly that by channeling the effort spent solving CAPTCHAs online into “reading” books.

In theory, the micro-surveys of a Surveywall would work similarly. With enough scale to conduct a full survey one question at a time, market researchers gain the insights they’re looking for. The publisher earns more for running the survey than it would get with traditional display advertising.

The question, as it always does, comes back to the reader.

Will she take a few seconds to answer a question, or think it intrusive, close the page and move on?

And that, most likely, comes back to the king of it all: just how valuable is the content that the publisher is providing? — Michael

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times / May 29, 2012

Morning Paper (1942) - ‘Morning Paper’ follows the production of an issue of The Times during the Blitz, from the daily editorial conference to the printing presses via British Council Film


The Collapse of Print Advertising in One Graph

Call it creative if you want, but this is what economic destruction looks like. Print newspaper ads have fallen by two-thirds from $60 billion in the late-1990s to $20 billion in 2011. 

You sometimes hear it said that newspapers are dead. Now, $20 billion is the kind of “dead” most people would trade their lives for. You never hear anybody say “bars and nightclubs are dead!” when in fact that industry’s current revenue amounts to an identical $20 billion.

So the reason newspapers are in trouble isn’t that they aren’t making lots of money — they still are; advertising is a huge, huge business, as any app developer will try to tell you — but that their business models and payroll depend on so much more money. The U.S. newspaper industry was built to support $50 billion to $60 billion in total advertising with the kind of staffs that a $50 billion industry can abide. The layoffs, buyouts, and bankruptcies you hear about are the result of this massive correction in the face of falling revenue. The Internet took out print’s knees in the last decade — not all print, but a lot.

Read more. [Image: Mark J. Perry]

I recently worked on a project that involved examining the history of the newpaper industry’s interaction with the challenges of the digital revolution and innovation over the past 20 years. Painful memories, for those of us who were there from the start—we’ve seen a lot of self-inflicted wounds and crappy executives. And I realized that the chronology of the past couple of decades of newspaper-think boils down to a few key milestones (or is it millstones?) that go something like this:

1995: This Internet thing? Just a fad. The CB radio of the ’90s.

1998: Oh wow—we may have missed the boat on the Internet.

2000: Ha! We were right! Just a fad! Phew! All is well!

2005: Are newspapers a great business, or what??

2008: Oh shit

2012: Help! We’ll do whatever you tell us to do! Just make it stop!!

It’s not going to stop, of course. The change going on right now in the news business is the greatest story we’ll ever see up close—the complete transformation of an industry. But unless newspaper leaderships break out of this cycle of naivete and arrogance and fear, pronto, the next entry in my chronology may be R.I.P.

The future of news, and of journalism as a whole, isn’t something anyone has a really firm grasp on — as traditional players continue to be disrupted by the web and social tools like Twitter, and new entrants like The Huffington Post. Huge reports on the state of the industry written by journalistic institutions are filled with questions, but very few answers. Now a writer at the Columbia Journalism Review has taken aim at what he sees as the real culprit: “future of news” visionaries like Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis, who he says are hurting the industry more than they are helping. But is that really where the problem lies? I don’t think so. (via GigaOm)

There’s no time to lose. As Frédéric Filloux reported at Monday Note, a just-completed study in France found that news consumers spent 37 minutes a day browsing digital publications, as opposed to 22 minutes a day perusing print.

For the first time, internet ads are bigger than newspapers! But they’re still much smaller than all TV put together  - IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report 2010 (full year) [via Business Inside]

1 in 4 local firms plan newspaper ad cuts: poll via Reflection of Newsosaur

BAD NEWS: Is it possible that the exclamation of the end of the world is able to provoke the apocalypse?