Is news content gasoline, or is it bottled water?
That is, is online news a necessary commodity that people will begrudgingly pay for, because they have to, or is it a necessary commodity that’s packaged in a way that finds a happy and willing customer base?
The growth of bottled water in the past decade — a commodity available free pretty much everywhere in the developed world — is the story of consumers willingly shelling out real dollars in exchange for convenience and branding. Can the news industry — which also sells a largely commoditized product — learn anything from the success of Aquafina and its ilk? Why is it that consumers cheerfully pay more for thirst-quenchers than we do for the fuel that moves our vehicles and our economy?
Such a freeing of virtual pocket-change has been suggested within the news industry to be an iTunes challenge: If people will pay a buck for a song, surely they’ll pay a few pennies for the sweat and shoe-leather of America’s newsrooms.
But news, like gas and water both, is a consumable: Once it’s used, it’s used. Unlike a song on iTunes, yesterday’s news report is not a moment to be savored over and over throughout the years. Which is why the bottle water example is so intriguing …