CEA’s pivot: no more paywall

I can drop the phrase “subscription required” from my self-promotional vocabulary: The Consumer Electronics Association is closing its Tech Enthusiast site and moving my contributions from there to its existing CE.org site.

With that move, announced in a press release on the Arlington, Va., trade association’s site, you can now read my weekly post for free. (The latest looks into the inconsistent history of granting exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” rules; it should be up soon it’s up now on CEA’s Digital Dialogue blog.) They plan to keep the TE site up until Jan. 31; if your membership runs through Feb. 1, you should get a refund.

Attentive readers will recall that I only started writing for TE three months ago, so this might seem like a rapid pivot. But take a moment to think about the underlying goal here. It wasn’t to lock in an extra revenue stream (though nobody at CEA would have minded that); it was to get more people tuned into the organization’s interests, as I wrote in November 2010 when this program launched. That incentive may explain why CEA twice dropped the price of a TE membership, first from $49 to $29 and then down to $9 with a discount code.

Many news organizations have faced this same issue, but CEA’s membership dues and other existing revenue sources mean it doesn’t need to finance its Web operations from reader subscriptions or advertising revenue. So I’m not surprised to see the organization end the paywall experiment in favor of a free, consumer-focused portal featuring my work. (CEA’s release calls my insights “invaluable”; I don’t know about that, but I hope they’re worth what they pay me.)

Ending the need to log in to read my weekly ruminations on the state of the electronics industry opens other interesting possibilities that would have been less viable behind a paywall. I’ve already suggested to the folks at CEA that I start doing Web chats like those I used to host at the Post, and they seem interested. If you’ve got other suggestions, the comments are all yours.

(Edited 12/16, 10:16 p.m. Added a link to the DMCA post.)

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New freelance gig: writing for CEA

A week ago, I alluded to the prospect of more work but didn’t name anybody responsible. Now I can: I’ll be writing a weekly post and recording a monthly podcast about the state of consumer electronics for the Consumer Electronics Association’s Tech Enthusiast site.

The TE site, as you may have read in my post about its debut last fall, is CEA’s venture into connecting with consumers. Membership cost $49 a year at first but is currently $29, and you’ll need one to read my work there, as CEA’s press release explains.

(Yes, it feels a little odd to write behind a paywall–aside from a free webinar on the perils of gadget procurement I’ll be hosting on Oct. 5. I haven’t done that in a long time.)

When I left the Post, the people at this Arlington trade association were quick to suggest that I start blogging for them. I was not as fast to accept their proposed freelance arrangement. The idea of being paid to write news by somebody besides a news organization is relatively new, at least to me, and I needed some time to think through it.

Here’s the deal: As the traditional media have cut back, companies and associations can’t count on the same coverage, and some have decided that they need to get into the news business themselves. The Chicago Bulls, for example, hired former Chicago Tribune reporter Sam Smith to cover the team and the NBA, and the Washington Capitals employ reporters of their own. (Caps owner Ted Leonsis wrote this spring that reader interest left him no choice: “We want to feed the monster.”) Many of my fellow freelance tech journalists have written for such company-underwritten news sites as Cisco’s The Network and HP’s Input Output.

And when I mentioned this possibility to friends and colleagues, some in journalism and some outside of it, most said “go for it.” A few warned that it might distract from me from better opportunities. We’ll see.

I didn’t hear any objections from current and potential freelance clients either; this doesn’t take the place of the blogging I continue to do for Discovery News. (One magazine editor joked that he could no longer assign me a profile of CEA president Gary Shapiro.)

It helps that CEA is paying an eminently fair freelance rate for my services. But you should be clear about what CEA has bought with that money: analysis, not advertising. They want somebody to give TE members insight about what’s going on in the industry, and that won’t always be positive. My first post, for example, gets into reasons for the disappointing launch of 3-D TV.

My contract does ensure one thing, though: I will be attending CES for the 15th year in a row this January.

Updated 1/31/2012 with a link to a non-paywalled version of the 3D piece.