Classic Aircraft and Charging for Journalism

January 21, 2012

I'm really proud of my piece about the development of the Lockheed A-12 which is included as part of a 22-page special on the Blackbird "family" in the new (February 2012) edition of the renamed Classic Aircraft magazine, which came out yesterday. And I'm also kind of pleased, in a strange way, that I can't link to it from this website.

Writers want people to read what they write, otherwise, clearly, there's no point. That's obvious. But people who write for a living also need to be able to get paid. (None of this will be news to anyone who's read my other postings on the sometimes contrary forces shaping journalism from the freelance perspective.) The internet provides writers with instant and global access to a potentially unlimited readership, but, as I've found even if I only consider what I've learned from running this site, even the pieces that attract a lot of attention aren't going to ever start bringing in enough income to pay you even at the UK minimum hourly rate for the time you put in to researching, writing and publishing them. 

Classic Aircraft, and a number of the other magazines I work for, have chosen not to republish all their contents online. There are plenty of reasons to disagree with this stance, particularly if you don't live in the UK and are therefore unlikely to be able to easily pick up a copy of the print edition. But, as experiences at titles as mass-market and obviously successful online as The Guardian shows, putting everything online and making it available at no charge seems only to be a surefire way of diminishing income while raising outgoings. It isn't fashionable at the moment to tell your readers that your magazine or newspaper is worth paying for and insisting that if they want to read it they will be charged - but I think, particularly for specialist titles where that information isn't available from a range of rivals who don't charge, it represents a sensible and pragmatic way of ensuring the business has a future. And as someone who depends on there being some money out of all this to make a living, I've got to be in favour of that. 

In this period of what a friend of mine referred to this week as an interregnum, between the old business order where journalism was sustainable, and the yet-to-be-discovered new way of making the collection, production and dissemination of information pay for itself, there are no right and wrong answers. We've all just got to do what works. But I like the idea that Classic Aircraft are going with, where they're not prepared to risk lowering the value their readership assigns to their product to zero by making their magazine available without charge. So: while I'd love everyone who passes by this page to read my A-12 piece, and definitely want it to be seen by as wide an audience as possible, I'm also entirely happy that you'll have to buy a copy of the magazine to do so.


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