Information Wants to be Expensive

Former Wall Street Journal publisher and executive vice-president of Dow Jones L. Gordon Crovitz writes:

When author Stewart Brand coined the expression “Information wants to be free,” he focused on how technology makes it cheap and easy to communicate and share knowledge. But the rest of his quote is rarely noticed. This says, “Information also wants to be expensive.”

Read more in his Wall Street Journal opinion piece, entitled “Information Wants to be Expensive“.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

5 replies on “Information Wants to be Expensive”

Nice piece. I do like the NYTimes, but I found it interesting that they ended their piece on the closing of the Rocky Mountain News with a quote that from one of the paper’s editors that I think is telling of the reasons behind this and many other newspapers’ demise:

“They want the amount of print you would find on a cereal box, which is what you get online,” said Mike Pearson, 49, a features writer and editor for The Rocky for 21 years.

“They want headlines only and graphs that summarize everything without going into a lot of analysis. And they feel entitled to even the most complex and sophisticated news coverage for free.”

This the industry’s disdain for its readers and what they want: both a disapproval of the demand for briefer news and a misunderstanding of what their readers and would-be readers do want. (Yes, a lot of people do want in-depth coverage–but they want it on certain topics….customized..and often they’re getting it somewhere else. Magazine articles have long been a place where more in-depth analysis of news topics are undertaken–which is more appropriate than in a daily publication. The WSJ is another option of a newspaper that is still in the black precisely because they have offered a valuable product that isn’t just interchangeable with that offered by any other news organization.)

A piece on a marketing and branding blog commented on the closing of The Rocky Mountain News and the decline of the newspaper industry in general, saying that newspapers never really got marketing after the age of penny papers, and that as they were transformed into institutions, they just began to think of themselves as indispensable. (Full post.) The author, John Tantillo, has published other pieces (ex. profiling TriCityNews) and has also suggested that it is the local papers (more in touch with their target market) that stand a better chance at enduring while the big-city newspapers fail.


I agree that newspapers’ hubris and obliviousness have been major contributing factors to the ill health of their industry. And the WSJ is indeed a refreshing example of a paper that recognizes the need to serve–and thus profit from–its audience.

Perhaps local papers do have a better chance because they have a better opportunity to know their audiences–assuming they act on this opportunity.I’ve seen local rags that are a bunch of wire articles with a high-school-level op-ed page. I certainly hope that is not the future of newspapers!


There are definitely also a lot of local newspapers out there that won’t survive….and that don’t deserve to.

My freelance work involves lots of reading of online articles, and it has made me realize 1) how many articles repeat one another 2) how many articles are poorly written or not very substantive. In short, there are many news sources out there offering content that is neither of high quality nor original.


Well, I suppose that as long as those papers are cheap enough to produce and distribute, the ad-supported model will sustain them. Especially since ad blockers don’t post a threat to print newspapers. 🙂


And even if the ads aren’t effective–the chances that the person selling the ads will notice, care, or have their salary affected by those facts…probably not much!


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