The advertiser-supported news media business model worked well for much of the industry’s history but was not a great model for excellent journalism, according to INMA Researcher-in-Residence Grzegorz Piechota.

“The advertiser just wanted to buy the attention of certain groups of people,” Piechota said at the INMA World Congress of News Media in New York in May. “The business model worked in such a way that it incentivised increasing reach because the bigger reach you could achieve with your product, you could have a diverse group or segments of readers and you could deliver to ... the advertiser.”

Because of this advertiser-centric approach, maximising reach was the most important goal. “The more customers the better — so we had one product: a journalist product.”

The main question, then, was how to get that product to the customers. That reach-first, product-first model has evolved, however.

“I think it has changed because the advertising is somewhat gone for most newspaper publishers,” Piechota said. “This is because we realised that most advertisers never cared about journalism. They never cared that much about even content. What they cared about was to get [their ads] to the right audiences and technology companies provided them with better tools than publishers.”

Because of this, advertisers moved away from news publishers and to online technology providers. Publishers, therefore, started to look for new sources of revenue.

“Thinking of other customers that they used to have, they started to think more about readers,” Piechota said. “Readers used to be subsidised by advertisers and so newspapers were virtually free.”

Pivoting toward a readers-first model, publishers now ask their audience to support the journalistic content financially. “That means that suddenly, it makes a difference whether a reader wants to pay or doesn’t want to pay,” Piechota concluded.