The pay-to-publish model is finally part of the mainstream media in the region, according to this article about one of the UAE’s largest newspapers wanting to charge companies for placing press releases on their website. The idea is simple – companies pay a specific amount to the publisher, and the press release gets run on the newspaper’s website.
This isn’t new. Other websites in the region follow a similar model. You pay your amount, and the news gets published online. The reasons why they’re doing this are sadly obvious. This year has been the worst on record for ad revenues for traditional publishers. Print has been decimated; the pandemic stopped the print runs for a time, and, once printing resumed, sales dropped. Online traffic has surged, but digital ad sales haven’t kept up. Publishers need the revenues.
I support the media, and I understand how they’re looking at any opportunity to find new revenue streams. But this issue raises so many questions. Here’s just a few.
1. Who defines what is newsworthy when money controls printing? Is there any editorial oversight or actual editing? And if there is, how does this factor into the whole process? Press releases in the region aren’t exactly breaking news, and will more likely send a reader to sleep than get them excited.
2. Who pays? Are some, such as government, exempt? Will SMEs get a pass/discount? Or will we see corporates and their budgets dominate the news?
3. Will Google/other aggregators downgrade the publisher’s websites? Or will reader traffic drop off? Either one would severely impact why any organization would want their news to be published on the site.
4. Who is responsible for inaccuracies? Are corporate press releases being checked for veracity by the editorial team? If they are, do inaccuracies get called out?
5. Finally, the issue of reader trust. If someone wants to place a paid news insertion into a publication, they’re usually given advertorial. And that space is marked clearly as advertorial. Will publishers clearly mark when content is paid for?
6. And the big question, what does this mean for PR agencies? Why should a client hire an agency to pitch if publication is guaranteed by money? You may say content generation, but algorithms are increasingly being used to write stories. Where does the agency add value?
I have other questions about this concept. Frankly, it concerns me. I’d rather publishers invest in good content and charge subscription rates. Or monetize their database. Even tax social media firms and push those revenues into editorial. Or anything that isn’t a pay-to-publish model.
One of the perks of this job is being able to pitch a great story and working with smart journalists who have an eye for a story, no matter who they’re talking with. With editors and journalists being cut, is this the future of publishing? Will your share of voice be determined by how much money you have to pay for publishing? I hope this is not the case.