Introducing “PEARL” – A Tool for Determining What People Will Pay for Online News

The easy answer to how much consumers will pay for online news – if there is such a thing as an easy answer – is “they’ll pay what it’s worth.” Of course that’s’ the problem: In a world where free access to news is a presumed birthright and stories have been reduced to commoditized pieces of “content,” getting people to understand the value of news is an unenviable if virtually impossible task.

That’s okay – innovation doesn’t happen in boardrooms or by crunching financials. The only way to score is to take a shot.

Nevertheless, it would be nice to have some way to evaluate the key drivers for news in a digital world — the elements that, when applied just right, will convince people that the news is worth paying for.

Introducing “PEARL”
I’m developing a process to help determine digital news value. I call it “PEARL” – an acronym that stands for the following:

P = Personal. The news has some personal meaning, e.g., tailored to individual preferences and behaviors (technographics.) This also includes relevance, both in terms of time and place as well as geo-location (mobile.)

E = Experiential. The “packaging” of the news allows for trans-media exploration, a multi-level experience or deeper engagement with the stories.

A = Actionable. Consumers can share stories, take an immediate action (submit a poll or sign a petition), comment or contribute.

R = Remarkable. The news is unique or otherwise special, meaning you couldn’t get the same story told the same way anywhere else.

L = Local. The news has community focus or “hyper-local” coverage of neighborhood events.

I’ve also added an “S” as “extra credit” – this is for “simple,” or in other words, when the news is easy to access and experience without needing a computer science degree.

How PEARL Works
Each letter of PEARL (and S) has a numeric value between 0 and 4:

0 = Non-existent
1 = Nice try, but no
2 = Pretty good
3 = Very good
4 = Outstanding

After giving each letter a numerical value, simply do the math to get your PEARL(s) Score:

0-5: No Value (I’ll stick with Google and Yahoo!)
6-10: Some Value (but keep your money in your e-wallet)
11-15: Good/Very Good Value (okay, how much?)
16-20: Outstanding Value (sign me up – and get me some company stock)

The highest score possible is 20, assuming you awarded a 4 to all six letters (PEARL plus S.) As an example, I used PEARL(s) to evaluate The Daily, an iPad only publication that currently charges 99 cents per week:

Example: The Daily
• P = 1
• E = 3
• A = 2
• R = 2
• L = 1
• (S) = 2
PEARL Score: 11

Most news organizations should aim for scores well above 10; anything below should be cause to reassess your model. At least that’s what I’m going with for now – this is very much a work in progress, and as I do more PEARL(s) scores for other media properties, I anticipate some patterns and insights will emerge.

No system is perfect – and the question of how much people are willing to pay for online news ultimately will be determined by the market, shifts in the advertising industry, media consolidation and countless other factors both known and as yet to be realized.

Let me know what you think, either about the PEARL system in particular or the value of online news in general. And I’ll be sure to report back on how the system is evolving and provide some deeper analysis.

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