Free Online Content? Steve Brill’s “Definition of Stupidity”

Stupid. The definition of stupidity. Idiotic. Beyond belief. A Disaster.

These are the words that Steve Brill uses to describe the way media outlets are passing out their wares for free on the web in an interview with The Atlantic’s Bob Cohn at the Aspen Ideas Festival. But lucky for them, all those stupidiotic giveaways will begin to give way to plausible subscription models once Journalism Online — Brill, former WSJ publisher Gordon Crovitz and media private equity man Leo Hindery, Jr.’s “engine” — is up and running this fall. The engine will provide “one simple way to be a content consumer,” and help newspapers and magazines, you know, make money again.

Daily Finance reports that Journalism Online will be announcing its client list in the next two weeks. But, for what it’s worth, not a single potential client has outright turned them away.

Chris Anderson (earnestly?) inserted himself in the comment thread on The Atlantic’s site to remind all of us that he wrote a book recently about this sort of thing:

Great interview, Bob, but what he’s describing–10% paid, 90% free–is precisely the “Freemium” model that my book is about. Not sure why he bangs on about why free is so terrible when his own prescription is 90% free.

Crovitz chimed in before the interview turned into a second round of back and forth between Anderson and somebody else who has an opinion about this sort of thing.


Greetings. Absolutely–the approach we at Journalism Online have urged many of our affiliate publishers to consider is indeed the freemium strategy. Thanks for popularizing the term. As my fellow co-founder Steve Brill suggested, we think that many strong brands will be able to convert 10% or so of their monthly unique audience–the most active, engaged 10%–to paying subscribers. The technology platform we’re building will help publishers determine who among their users are likely subscribers and the kinds of access that will justify what level of pricing. Cheers, Gordon Crovitz

Additional coverage of Journalism Online: paidContent, editorsweblog.

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