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Connecting Readership with Pay

Over at Micro Persuasion, Steve Rubel takes note of a new pay-per-performance system at ZDNet, where writers will be rewarded in part based on how many people read what they write. It raises questions, he observes:

For example, will a blogger favor writing a sensational post that is likely to get more clicks over one that perhaps is less sexy and is based on, say, a press release? News value and clicks often go together, but as we’ve seen on collaborative sites like digg, sensationalist rumors sometimes are more popular.

No kidding. This is one of the flaws of simple popularity, which is not the only measure of quality. (And by looking at the “newspapers” at supermarket checkout stands, we know that some big sales mean zero in terms of quality.)

Like most people with some old-school journalistic values — you know, the ones like thoroughness, accuracy, fairness et al — the pay-for-play system is not my idea of a great plan. Another flaw, besides the questionable equating of value with readership, is that the placement on the page has a lot to do with how many people read something. Bury any story, in print or online, and you’ll just about guarantee that it won’t be well-read.

But the system is in some ways inevitable.

In the 1980s I was on a writers’ mailing list on Compuserve. One of the members, a fine journalist, posted something that has stayed with me ever since. He said (I’m paraphrasing now):

One of these days journalists are going to find out what people actually want to read. And that should scare the hell out of them.

9 Comments on “Connecting Readership with Pay”

  1. #1 Delia
    on Jan 17th, 2007 at 5:03 pm


    I see them as two different markets that *sometimes* coincide: entertainment and knowledge (I mean, if you could consistently hit *both*, that would be great… but it would be extremely difficult if not impossible).


    P.S. As for remunerating as a function of number of reads… — It all depends on what you are after… If you *just* want to make money (not concerned with sending out messages that may not be popular, for instance, or presenting outstanding journalistic work that most of your readers may not necessarily appreciate) and your profits are a direct result of the number of reads, going this route seems to optimize your operation… (It’s like hiring people on spec — they get paid according to how well it does in the market; they can do wonderful work but if it doesn’t sell… too bad…) D.

  2. #2 Sridhar Vembu
    on Jan 17th, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    I have exchanged emails with you on the subject of H1-B visas once, and I came away with the feeling that you managed to combine arrogance with ignorance, while also managing to sound the correct populist outrage note. Is that what you call “old school journalistic value”? At least the blogosphere doesn’t pretend to objectivity, and you reach an approximation of truth by averaging out several biased sources.


  3. #3 If No One Reads What You Write, That’s Because It Sucks at The Blog Herald
    on Jan 17th, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    […] Fundamentally, this is nothing new. “Yellow journalism” is a century old, and “sweeps week” for broadcast TV has been around for decades. As Dan Gillmor points out, supermarket tabloids have long played it close to the line on sensationalizing for dollars. […]

  4. #4 Dan Gillmor
    on Jan 17th, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    Sridhar, I spent a lot of time studying the visa question when I was a columnist. Your feeling is your own business, of course.

  5. #5 Pramit
    on Jan 17th, 2007 at 8:54 pm

    Pay per view is a bad idea unles you are writing gossip and tech columns for an established org.

  6. #6 Delia
    on Jan 18th, 2007 at 9:08 am

    Hi Pramit!

    re: “One good story does not build stickiness. For repeat visits, you need consistency. For consistency, writers must post good stories over a long period for the Google effect, Pagerank and others to push the product along. That takes time and money.”

    Well…the idea is not to fire people if they don’t get enough clicks right away (it does appear to take some time to get an accurate read of what a particular writer has to offer the clients you are serving). It’s just that somebody that has been writing for a good while and has gotten no clicks or very few would probably find a better match elsewhere or… doing something else… wouldn’t you say?

    I mean… there is no way to force people to read the “good stuff” (according to you) if they would rather do something else… It could be argued that you might be able to change their mind in time (good luck if you are willing to put in the finances and take the risk! it is just not required if you are in it for the money…– which was the situation I was looking at).


  7. #7 Dyslexia Reader
    on Jan 24th, 2007 at 11:58 am

    This is an odd question, but what about the ONION or MARK TWAIN kind of ‘real news’ disguised as ‘HUMOUR?’ And what if we try and syndicate blogs?
    Are there any strictures on blogs which are done in the aforementioned styles?
    If the Patriot Act,as it has been called; is to infer that recently arrived ex-pats from the U.K. are somehow less American than native born citizens, will we be made to prove our rightful allegiance in event that blogs come under a Seditious Speech Law? As I’ve already remarked, we can write whatever we darn well like, and as Americans now, can enjoy the Bill of Rights, but when does the law counter the usual Syndication Rights? I for one would like to know now, rather than expend two years developing a readership, and find that the blog itself is declared ‘illegal’ or worse yet, ‘BLASPHEMOUS?” Cheers!

  8. #8 Lyle
    on Jan 31st, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Yes Dyslexia. How ironic. It was the anti-hierarchical English element in the American Revolution who were the true “Patriots”. What a joke if the law now prevents UK ex-pats from speaking their mind on blogs! Test case? A drink to you too!

  9. #9 没人看,是因为你写的太烂了 : 先驱博客 - The Blog Herald China
    on Jun 18th, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    […] 基本上,没什么新鲜的。 “发黄的记者学”已经一个世纪了,广播电视的“周头条”也几十年了。 如同Dan Gillmor指出的,超市小报一直靠耸人听闻来骗钱。 […]