Steve Rubel yesterday “revealed” that CNET is “testing” paying some of its ZDNet tech bloggers based on the page views they generate. If this is just a test (rather than an established policy), it’s quite an exhaustive one, as it’s been going on for well over a year and has been pretty well documented. One of the bloggers, Tom Foremski, provided some details a month ago. Last August, another ZDNet blogger, Mitch Ratcliffe, wrote, “at ZD Net bloggers are compensated based on the number of page views they receive and a fraction of the pages in TalkBack, so at the end of the month the size of a check expresses something, but not necessarily our success in being informative or accurate.” Business 2.0 recently rolled out a similar payment scheme for its blog-mob, Gawker’s been doing it for eons, and I’m sure other publishers are or will be linking compensation to page views, particularly for freelance contributors. And not just bloggers, either.
Pay-per-view journalism is inevitable. It simply brings the compensation model in line with the content model. Online publishing breaks the old bundled-content model of print publishing. Once content moves online, writers are no longer contributing to the overall value of a package – a newspaper or a magazine, say. Each of their stories becomes a discrete product. As I’ve written before, “The web unbundles the bundle – each story becomes a separate entity that lives or dies, economically, on its own. It’s naked in the marketplace, its commercial existence meticulously measured, click by click.” If you can isolate a product’s economics and measure them accurately, then it’s only rational to compensate its creator based on its actual performance.
As Jim Warren, the Chicago Tribune’s managing editor recently told the New York Times, “you can’t really avoid the fact that page views are increasingly the coin of the realm.” And the coin of the realm is what reporters and other writers are paid with.
Rubel says that the pay-per-view model “raises an eyebrow” for him. And well it should (though his suggestion that it’s somehow akin to the PayPerPost model of paying bloggers to pimp particular products is off the mark). All businesses and all workers tailor what they do in response to economic incentives, and a shift in the way publishers and journalists make money means a shift in what gets written and what gets published. The medium is the message, a wag once said. I’m not sure he was talking about economics, but he should have been.