According to Arianna Huffington, writing for her website takes as much energy as lying on the couch to watch TV. Speaking at the CMSummit in New York, Huffington explained that people write for her website for fun and don't need to be paid.
As she says:
"Self-expression has become the new entertainment."
So much for the future of paid journalism. But at least she's consistent. As much as Huffington doesn't think writing on her site is worth paying for, she doesn't think readeres will be willing to pay either.
The common concern about The Huffington Post was that its traffic would decline after the 2008 presidential election. That has not been the case. Traffic to the site has skyrocketed in the past two years. As Huffington says now:
"The Huffington Post gets 3/4 of its traffic not from politics."
According to comScore, HuffPo received 26 million unique worldwide visitors in April. If you use Google Analytics, that number jumps to 40 million. As it turns out, HuffPo doesn't need politics to support its business model. It just needs free writers.
The Huffington Post notoriously depends on hundreds of unpaid freelancers to populate the content on its sites. Huffington says that her company now employs about 130 full-time staffers. However, the site also relies on about 6,000 bloggers — most of whom are unpaid.
Huffington doesn't see that as a problem. She uses the example of media personalities and legislators who write op-eds for the New York Times:
"Traditionally, many well known people have sent op-eds to the New York Times because they wanted to sound off on something that was important for them, not for $250."
Those people may use the New York Times more for the platform than the paycheck, but Huffington leaves out an important point. The New York Times still pays people for their work, even if that isn't the reason the opeds get written. But Huffington is unrepentent on her methodology:'Writers can use the Huffington Post to sound off, that is why we get the great writers."
When pressed about paying for that content, she explained that no one ever asked to be paid to watch television before the internet existed. For Huffington, writing for her site is a form of entertainment for writers.
And when it comes to traffic, HuffPo is not proud. As she said earlier in the day at a "Future of Media" panel:
"The easiest way [to get traffic] is to do lowest common denominator traffic, and we do some of them. The who's sleeping with who stories, Hollywood stories, Sandra Bullock, etc."
But Huffington puts her foot down when it comes to charging for content. Asked about the prospect of a HuffPo paywall, Huffington was clear:"We will never do that."
"We clearly see the future as the linked economy. You don't put paywalls behind content."
Especially considering that The Huffington Post spends a lot of its energies aggregating other people's content, it would be hard to charge readers for access.
As MediaMemo's Peter Kafka succinctly pointed out on Twitter:
"um: how could they?"