5 Key Points for Journalism Educators Who Want to Teach Online

If you’re transitioning to teaching students online, then you’re possibly in one of two camps: you’re resistant because you believe face-to-face teaching is better, or you’re resigned because you know it is a matter of when, not if. Finding a truly passionate distance educator in a field where much of the learning has to be practical (how to write, use a camera, record sound) has, in my experience, been difficult. Most people design curriculum with the on-campus student in mind, and then make amendments for the distance student. However, journalism education by distance seems a natural fit. Journalists routinely have to work remotely, receiving briefs from editors thousands of miles away. They create and file stories using a diverse range of technologies, and need to be mobile, adaptable, social and able to negotiate complexity when conducting research. So thinking of the roving correspondent, who can’t make it for critical training,
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How to Shake Up the Discussion Board in Your Online Class

Getting an online class off the ground seems daunting on its own, but once it’s up and running, online educators find themselves facing an even bigger challenge — how to manage the potential workload of monitoring conversation on the discussion boards. Understanding how to facilitate and manage an online class was the focus of the second semester of a learning community I was part of this year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One question that came up again and again was, “How on earth am I going to keep up with this many students posting so many times throughout the course?” One way of tackling that problem is by changing up the content and what you’re asking students to post to the boards, as well as doing more to manage the discussion happening there.
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Courtesy of Amy Lynch-Biniek

And if the idea of reading dozens — or hundreds — of discussion
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The newsonomics of the shopping of Press+ and the coming of Paywalls 2.0

In April 2009, when Journalism Online began operations, its business — providing the backend for websites offering different kinds of paywalls — was largely derided. Two years later, when the company — having largely assumed the name of its main product, Press+ — was sold to printer RR Donnelley, observers noted that the $45 million (or so) payout seemed rich for a company with a couple of dozen clients.

pressplusToday, Press+ — with about 450 clients and 200 more contracted and in the pipeline for set-up — is again on the market, I’ve learned. A number of companies have heard the pitch, and prospective buyers are going through their due diligence.

Among the key questions: Would a buyer get a services company, a tech company, or a data company? The 40-person Press+ unit of RR Donnelley is a mix of the three at this point, and a new owner would have to decide which to emphasize going forward. It’s also a profoundly U.S-centric company at this point, with about only five percent of its 450 active clients found outside the United States.

How much will it go for, and to whom — and what does its selling tell us about the future of paid digital content — not just in the U.S., but globally?

Cofounders Gordon Crovitz, the one-time Wall Street Journal publisher, and Steve Brill, serial entrepreneur and journalist, declined comment on the shopping of the company. I’ve talked to both over the years, though, and the company’s path, its challenges, and its opportunities are quite clear. In fact, the potential growth of paid digital content sales is one we should all be focused on. Whether those sales come through Press+ or elsewhere, we’re clearly on the cusp of a new understanding of consumers’ willingness to pay for digital news and feature products.

I’ve come to call this new emerging era Paywalls 2.0, built on the lessons of Paywalls 1.0, the last four years’ foundation built largely on The New York Times’ pioneering general news pay model and the work of Press+.

First, a basic question. Why is RR Donnelley selling?

Donnelley bought Press+ and several other companies, including ereader Libre Digital, in a burst. The old printing and packaging company needed to expand its footprint from legacy businesses and to demonstrate to investors that it was getting in tune with digital times. Motley Fool described it this summer as a high-dividend-paying “buggy whip” stock, even though it has managed recent small growth. Check out the Donnelley website, and you see lots of stuff on “end-to-end” publishing solutions. Its “Custom Point Solutions Group” encompasses some of these new solutions, emphasizing the company’s move beyond printing to “integrated communications management.” Donnelley is a $10-billion-plus company in revenues, and while the plus part of Press+ may have seemed attractive, the business is but a freckle on its balance sheet.

Though the Donnelley acquisition looked like it might offer a new B2B market for Press+, it’s now clear that Press+ managed to grow largely within its original market: news publishers. Eighty percent of Press+ clients are newspapers, and many of the rest are news-oriented online-only or newsletter companies. The Donnelley acquisition, as is often the case, didn’t provide the kind of synergies we hear about when such deals are announced. It may have been an odd fit in any case. And now Donnelley is moving on.

For the global news industry, approaching 2014, the question of this reader revenue revolution is intertwined with making sense of Press+’s potential. By mid 2014, well over 650 daily newspapers worldwide will have restricted digital news access. The majority of those are in the U.S., but systems are rapidly being deployed across northern and central Europe, as well as in Japan and Australia. What was a short time ago experimental is becoming an article of faith. Where we recently wondered whether the “information wants to be free” fantasy had become a reality, we now know that some consumers — given higher-quality news, or TV, or music, or movie content — will pay for it. Where circulation revenue was once flat, it is now going up 5-6 percent annually in the U.S. because of paywall-inspired and -abetted aggressive pricing.

Just as important: We now know that ad revenue struggling to find any growth. Add it all up and reader revenue — increasingly, digitally oriented reader revenue — becomes the most important and for many (“The newsonomics of majority reader revenue”) their leading way to pay journalists and eke out profit.

This new era will find its legs as we answer four questions:

  • If, in fact, subscribers will pay for all-access and digital access, what else might these digital subscribers — increasingly positioned as members — pay for?
  • What if publishers apply price-discrimination models for digital and all-access, in ways that hundreds of dailies have long done with print pricing? In short, charge different households different prices based on their buying history, demographics, and location, maximizing yield per subscriber. Matt Lindsay, whose Mather Economics is the go-to pricing consultant for U.S. dailies, identifies digital price discrimination as a top trend for 2014.
  • If the market for all-the-content firehose digital subscriptions is getting saturated (a notion supported by the plateauing of The New York Times’ first offer and other similar learnings), then what kinds of niche paid products might non-newspaper loyalists — including those under 35 — pay for?
  • Will there be a paid news content network, enabling publishers to sell other publishers’ paid content? Whether it’s a Press+ network, a Washington Post/Amazon network, or a Flipboard network, there will be efforts to create a Netflix for news.

I’ve written about “selling more stuff” as a signal trend for the next year. The New York Times is the most public about its niche digital product plans, and we’ve seen 2013 niche tests from the Chicago Tribune, Politico, Germany’s Bild, and The Times of London, among others. In addition, a number of large publishers tell me privately they are readying their own paid digital niche products. Sports, which Press+ has identified as an area of strong interest among a third of Press+-mediated subscribers, poses a lot of potential. So do travel, health, technology, and family.

Which brings us back to one of Press+’s strengths: data. Its current pitch to would-be buyers is heavily based on knowledge and analytics.

It’s good to be at the top of a healthy food chain, and that’s where Press+ is now perched. It is dropping billions of cookies on Press+-mediated content. While each publisher gets its own data, Press+ gets it all. Out of that, you get one of the major selling points Press+ uses with its clients: “We’ll share best practices with you.” Press+ has measured the differential between its highest- and lowest-performing sites at 10-to-1, and that would be an impressive difference-maker in revenue return. Get the metering, marketing, messaging, and more right, Press+ says, and you’ll more than make up the revenue share (~20 percent) you pay us.

That may be Press+’s best value in the marketplace. Data and analytics (“The newsonomics of “Little Data,” data scientists, and conversion specialists”) is the foundation of the new digital business. Press+ has a fair amount, but what it has may be more valuable to acquirers that have far more, and want to add consumer buying habit data to ad-related and other data collections. While it has just learned over the past year that is a “data company,” that personality seems most appealing on today’s market. It’s a services company, getting decent to good marks from its clients, though some have chafed about its limitations. It’s less of a tech company, those who’ve looked under its hood believe; they say its technologies, though smartly assembled, break little new ground.

So would a media company buy Press+, or would an e-commerce company make more sense? How about an agency looking to move beyond traditional agency bounds? For current Press+ clients, a sale may post a competitive question. If a competitive media company buys Press+, how comfortable will clients be with having their precious data used against them? One of the reasons Google never got much traction with its Checkout/OnePass e-commerce alternative to Press+ was publisher concern about data.

At the same time, given both the growing appetite for niche digital news/feature commerce and the complexity that it may require, Press+ will need investment to keep its lengthy lead against its own competition, a competition now splintered among Europe-based companies (Piano Media, Cleeng, MediaPass) as well as Tinypass in the U.S. A buyer could supply that in ways that Donnelley largely hasn’t.

A buyer will have to decide whether the Press+ business model has legs. The company, which doesn’t disclose revenues, largely receives its payments in the form of revenue share when readers buy digital-only subscriptions. Yet the growing trend among publishers is to offer single-priced all-access to print/web/tablet/smartphone/e-edition. On those subs, Press+ only takes a smaller annual fee, rather than a rev share. A new owner must fit the Press+ model to its best value proposition: Is it really best practice and analytics, as with the benchmarking product it already sells to those who don’t use Press+ as an e-commerce platform? Or is it software-as-a-service?

Of course, publishers face a paradox as they move more strongly into paid digital access. All-access reader revenue is becoming an absolute core of the business. Do they need own it — and what does owning it mean? For the bigger companies, building their own technologies and integrating it with customer databases has become a top priority. For the many others, what’s the best long-term solution? Press+ argues that its cloud-computing solution is fastest and cheapest, getting publishers into the new marketplace better than the alternatives. That may well have been true for the Paywalls 1.0 era. But as Press+ prepares to change hands again, its clients will have another chance to ask themselves that question.

Tinypass, Andrew Sullivan’s Favorite Paywall Operator, Gets a CEO and Some Cash

trevor_kaufman (1)Big month for Tinypass, the little company that helps publishers sell content online.

On Jan. 2, blogger Andrew Sullivan announced with much fanfare that he was using Tinypass to power his experiment in self-publishing, a move that generated an enormous amount of attention for the 12-person shop.

Now Tinypass has its own announcement to make: It has hired a CEO and raised $1.25 million in seed funding.

The money news comes with a caveat, because the company had raised the round throughout last fall; now they’re just making it official.

But the new boss is actually new: Trevor Kaufman comes to the company after a five-year stint working for ad giant WPP, who bought his Schematic interactive agency and kept him around to run Possible, a roll-up of other ad/design shops.

Tinypass is a spinoff of another e-commerce platform aimed at filmmakers, and it hasn’t had a CEO before. Up until now, it has been run by COO David Restrepo, who also happens to be a Schematic veteran. He’ll stay on, Kaufman says.

Now the job for the company is to build on the momentum Sullivan has generated. They have about 45 paying clients right now, but Sullivan’s spotlight has prompted 400 people to download their software for a test drive.

Tinypass is supposed to offer publishers maximum flexibility for selling their stuff. Sullivan is using it to create a sort of freemium/meter operation, but you could also use the software to put up a strict pay wall, or to sell content via a download model, or some kind of combination.

In most cases, Tinypass takes a cut of its publishers’ sales; for some large clients, it charges a license fee instead.

Kaufman has a whole pitch ready to explain why publishers might consider selling their content, instead of, or in addition to, relying on advertising. But you, clever readers, already know about the declining-CPM-and-increasing-inventory hamster wheel of doom that most Web publishers are spinning on. So, no need for that.

The bigger question for Tinypass is why publishers should work with them instead of several similar outfits. JournalismOnline/Press+ has been selling a version of this, mostly focused on daily newspapers, for several years. MediaPass does something very similar, and they claim “hundreds” of clients, including Weekly World News, the people behind Bat Boy.

But I bet “good enough for Andrew Sullivan, good enough for you” will work fine for a lot of people, at least in the short term. And perhaps with investors, as well — Kaufman says he expects to raise a Series A round in the near future.

8 Lessons in the Art of Teaching Journalism Online

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"Beyond J-School 2011" is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

This week on MediaShift, we're exploring the moving target that is teaching journalism. Stay tuned as we offer tips, tools and insights on educating tomorrow's journalists.

I'm not the only one saying this: Online journalism educators should be good at teaching journalism online. After all, we are comfortable communicating clearly, are early adapters of technology, and we like being first.

But online teaching (= distance ed = e-learning) isn't easy. It requires rethinking teaching methods, tools and student needs. It is, however, worth it.

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I've been teaching an online class for about eight years. I am fortunate enough to do that -- shameless plug coming -- at American University where faculty can get course development grants to create online courses and enroll in a semester-long training tutorial to design the courses and learn the pedagogy. (We talk like that in academe.)

My class, called Media@theMillennium (oops, needs new name) is entirely online, no face-to-face, and mostly asynchronous. I've used Blackboard tools, including Wimba, while drifting into faster platforms such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter and more. Colleagues add the online learning tool Jing, Delicious, Tumblr and others.

Students have taken my class from as far away as Ethiopia during a summer internship and as close as downtown during lunch at a full-time job. The ones who say they want to take it during the summer "because I am getting married" or "I'll be on vacation" during class time are encouraged not to enroll.

As an online instructor, I see myself as an aggregator and guide through the course content, much as the traditional journalist's role has evolved from a one-to-many model to a curator designing a more interactive experience.

This is not the end of "place-based" education, as this university president notes. But the pros for online education are easy to spot:

  • Students who do not normally talk in class feel empowered to share online when they have a chance to formulate their thoughts.
  • Students prefer to take courses when they can; if you look at course metrics, it's not unusual to see many inside the online courses at lunch, dinner and midnight.
  • You're using a lot less university space!

There are challenges, too: You need an extremely motivated student -- and a very motivated instructor.

"You don't (just) talk once a week" online to students, said my colleague, AU professor Lynne Perri, managing editor for the Investigative Reporting Workshop, who created an online course called Visual Strategies for News. "You are available all the time."

There are universities running fast ahead, particularly testing the concept of free; others are way behind. Here's a look from my perch.

8 Lessons in Teaching Online

1. Online learning works, but there is a lot of upfront work.

E-learning is "way more difficult than people understand and way more effective than people give credit to," said Howard Finberg, Poynter's director of interactive learning. Poynter launched its News University in 2005; now 200,000 users have registered at the site, which has 275 training modules and 15 online seminars.

At the time of this writing, Finberg's team also is nearing the close of a new 16-week pilot teaching introduction to journalism, by distance, to three universities. He's using live lectures, text chats, weekly online discussions, and a "virtual textbook" of self-directed modules.

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The lessons so far? "You have to find ways to engage your students. You have to understand your audience," he said. It's important that you "don't dumb it down and don't over-reach."

For me, the prep time before my course is at least twice that of a face-to-face (or f2f) class.

Professor Mindy McAdams created a one-credit, entirely asynchronous tools course at University of Florida. She is upfront about the time investment. Making narrated PowerPoints, for example, "is insanely time-consuming. Trying to make video or Captivate versions of demonstrations I give in class -- also a huge time eater," she said.

"I think one of the challenges universities face with this push to distance education is that creating quality course materials (and keeping them up-to-date) takes much, much longer than prepping a f2f lecture," she said. "Even if you don't have to make everything yourself, working with an instructional designer is also very time-consuming."

2. If you create an online course, plan to teach it multiple times.

"If the same lecture/lesson will be given again and again, the return (for the work of creating the online materials) can be very high," McAdams said, though instructors don't always know a lecture's shelf life in advance.

3. The tools are as good as they are at the moment you use them.

The field is evolving so quickly, instructors I know just keep trying the next thing to come along. You can teach through Blackboard or Moodle or any proprietary system, but many will turn for a quick run at gotomeeting.com or other web conferencing tools. I've had Wimba work fine and not work, depending on where I used it. New products are often less clunky.

Adobe Connect has worked well for out-of-town speakers and for collaborating with other faculty, my library colleagues say. And AU saw a huge spike in Wimba use during the February snowstorm in 2010. Sorry, students.

Whatever your tools, Mark Plenke who has been teaching online for 10 years at Normandale Community College outside Minneapolis, says transparency is key. He encourages new instructors to "resist the tools that allow them to hide content from students. The entire course should be visible and accessible on the first day of class."

But we know stuff breaks. Anyone who tried to follow the livestream of the Republican Presidential Debate the other night from Spartanburg, S.C., saw the coverage fail, leaving CBS panned, according to Politico.

4. You cannot take your f2f class and put it online.

You also cannot just post video of your lectures. Lots of universities have done so and posted them on YouTube and iTunes. If they are well-produced, sure. But watch a poorly framed, poorly performed, poorly lit lecture, and your eyes roll back into your head.

Perri noticed she was missing something in her online class, which is a blend of skills and theory. By the second year, she chose to make the course a hybrid, or blended, course -- online and f2f -- because optional in-person meetings and labs "went really well. People liked the mix." She also added brief videos of her talking about something she had likewise posted; students appreciated hearing her voice even if it was similar content.


Here is a sample of a video by AU Professor Lynne Perri that accompanies her online course.

At the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication, instructors created a digital textbook with an online-only publisher. The Information for Mass Communication class is taught as two in-class lectures with a virtual lab on Fridays. There is an online-only version of the class, as well.

5. You make the same mistakes online that you make f2f.

I had a terrific author speak virtually to one of my classes one year in the Blackboard forums. He was at a conference in another time zone, and when he left, we all said goodbye. For some reason, some of my students took the opportunity to post some not-flattering and perhaps unfair comments about his book upon his exit. Well, because I had not closed the virtual door behind him, he came back to the discussion board the next day to answer lingering questions. Oops No. 2.

6. For live chats, grab a co-host.

Poynter's Finberg is adamant about having a host for webinars, a colleague who is separate from the person running the show. Perri likewise hosts live discussions with two in control.

Another tip: If you're trying a new platform and the students are scattered, schedule a practice session ahead of time. There's nothing worse than hosting a speaker when students are more interested in playing with the technology than participating. Get the time spent virtually waving hello out of the way early.

7. Your directions and assignments must be as clear as humanly possible.

The little things are the big things online. All content headlines, presentation, phrases must be numbingly consistent, particularly if an assignment is paired with readings posted separately. Just as with the web in general, clarity trumps creativity. Pay special care to homework assignments, particularly if you have students abroad. If something is due at COB, say it's due at "close-of-business, Nov. 30, EST."

At a Sloan Consortium conference a few years back, I learned another tip: Rather than answer questions from students as one-offs, post them publicly so that everyone gets the benefit of your response. Saves you time, too.

8. Asynchronous courses have a life of their own.

The other things to keep in mind when creating entirely online programs for working professionals are the "life events" around which adult learners must schedule. My faculty pal Brigid Maher is now overseeing an online certificate in digital skills and is building it outside of life events such as back-to-school season.

Why are we putting so much effort into online learning? It's pretty obvious.

As Kevin Carey argued in The Chronicle of Higher Education, universities cannot make the same mistakes with students as newspaper execs made with readers by declaring publishers knew what customers needed, how it should be delivered and when. Look how well that worked out.

As we move forward, we will grapple even more with questions of scale, identity verification, and how best to assess student learning. The effort is worth it.

Amy Eisman holds two posts at the School of Communication at American University and is a frequent judge, speaker and trainer in web writing. At SOC, she is director of Writing Programs and director of the weekend MA in Interactive Journalism. She also created an online course, which explores the influence of business, technology and audience on journalism. Eisman was an editor with Gannett (USA Today, USA Weekend) and was a managing editor at AOL. Today she trains newsrooms on web content and writing, including workshops at the washingtonpost.com, BNA, Freedom Forum, the Voice of America, the World Resources Institute, wtop.com and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague and Moscow. She co-chaired the Online News Association conference in 2010 and last spring lectured on new media in Vladivostok.

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"Beyond J-School 2011" is sponsored by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which offers an intensive, cutting edge, three semester Master of Arts in Journalism; a unique one semester Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism; and the CUNY J-Camp series of Continuing Professional Development workshops focused on emerging trends and skill sets in the industry.

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The newsonomics of ARPU

Editor’s Note: Each week, Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of news for the Lab.

We’ve seen lots of consternation over numbers recently. Take Groupon’s foggy (more opaque than fuzzy) math now being dissected by the SEC. Dissatisfied with all the usual metrics-for-investors the business world has produced, it decided to create its own: ”adjusted consolidated segment operating income,” or adjusted CSOI.

The excellent WSJ piece, by Shayndi Raice and Nick Wingfield, lays it out well, though it’s a pinch-yourself, “Is-this-The-Onion?” kind of story. As one portfolio manager said, ”In essence, Groupon is asking investors to look at their profit before any expenses.” 

In June, we read the Triumph of Charts over commonsense, with the Huffington Post surpassing The New York Times in unique visitors and the UK’s Mail Online now the second most-read site in the galaxy. I remember the good old days when it was hard to put up a chart on the web. Now, it’s so easy, anyone and everyone is doing it. Too often, it’s form before facts of consequence. Too often, charts feed delicious, SEO’able headlines that drive incredible traffic…that put some sites high up on the charts. It’s quite a circle, though lacking virtue.

Others (check out Steve Myers’ smart Poynter piece) have pointed out fallacies in the NYT/HuffPo comparisons. Let’s add to them with a look at the newsonomics of ARPU, or average revenue per unique visitor. It’s a great benchmarking metric, long used by telcos and in the cable TV industry, and one being increasingly used, though not publicly, in the digital news industry. In addition, it’s a revealing number when we look at such players as HuffPo, the Daily Mail, and NYTimes.com.

ARPU basically says: Don’t tell me how many customers you have; tell me how much money you are making on each of them. While it’s not the only number anyone wants to use to run a digital business, it’s a big piece of the puzzle — especially as we compare like companies to each other.

Let’s look at the ARPU of traffic. I’ve used full-year 2010 data, the cleanest available, and extrapolated where necessary.

For NYTimes.com, I’m estimating digital ad revenues of $170M in 2010. That’s 80 percent of total reported digital revenues for the Times News Media group overall. The Times represents just under 70 percent of total company revenues, and, clearly, the Times itself is driving more digital revenue, proportionally, than the smaller papers in the company. So 80 percent should be close.

In December 2010, comScore reported 48 million global uniques for the Times. So each unique would be worth $3.54 for the Times for the year. (Of course, uniques vary by month, and domestic uniques — 32 million or so — are worth more than non-domestic.)

For the same month, comScore reported 31 million global uniques for the Huffington Post. Most 2010 revenue estimates for HuffPo come in at about $30 million. So, in 2010, each HuffPo unique would be worth 96 cents.

Let’s take two supposed competitors in the UK, both in the news business, both selling advertising but attracting quite different audiences.

The Guardian took in £37.5 million in digital revenue in 2010. Using the December ABCe number of 39 million uniques, each unique was worth about £.96, or $1.53 at today’s exchange rates.

For the Mail, I extrapolate, from its reports, about £16 million in digital revenue for last year. Using the March (aligning with its reporting period) ABCe unique number of 66 million, I figure each unique visitor is worth about £.24, or 38 American cents to the Mail.

If close to right, the value of a unique visitor is 3.5x greater for the Times than for HuffPo, in advertising. It’s 4x greater for the Guardian than Mail Online.

Why the differential? Reasons run a wide course. Take your pick from:

  • “Premium” brands get higher rates than non-premium ones.
  • Legacy sales forces are better at leveraging bigger buys than newer sales forces.
  • Advertisers believe they get better results from the Times and the Guardian.
  • The Guardian and The New York Times are driving more pageviews per unique visitor than the Huffington Post and Mail Online — both of which may have mastered search engine optimization and search engine marketing to tilt the unique numbers in their favor. The more pageviews, the more chance for monetization, and, thus, more revenue. Fly-bys are a huge part of everyone’s traffic (probably 60-70 percent of New York Times and Guardian traffic); they may be an even huger part of HuffPo’s and Mail Online’s.

(As another comparison to our news calculations, it’s intriguing to run the numbers for Groupon and Twitter. Twitter has about 139 million uniques (May, 2011) and maybe revenues of $150 million this year, or $1.07 ARPU. Groupon, with $460 million in U.S. revenue in 2010, estimated by Techcrunch, and about 10.7 million unique visitors in December, would have an ARPU of $42.90. That’s off the charts — and why it has attracted its valuation, despite its “profits” accounting.)

Whatever deeper analysis will show, the ad revenue numbers are real. Would you rather have the Times’ $170 million in digital revenues or HuffPo’s $30 million? (I know Tim Armstrong’s answer, and you AOL shareholders can sit down now.) Of course, it’s true, HuffPo/AOL traffic may continue to ramp up (or not), on a much-smaller cost base. It’s also true that the Times, still profitable, owns a huge brand equity — now being leveraged in digital circulation money as well — and has lots of upside, as it is challenged by its own legacy cost burdens.

Whatever kind of battle this is, it’s not a battle of equals, and it’s not a battle that can be understood by charting unique visitors.

Unique visitors are a great dumb count. As I’ve noted, it’s as if in the print world we counted the everyday subscriber — consuming 5 hours a month of a news publication — the same as someone who, standing on a Midtown corner on a windy day, happened to catch a sheet of flying newsprint as she held up her hand to hail a cab. Hardly equal, yet that’s what unique counts level.

Unique counts play to the wonder of Google search and, now, by Facebook and Twitter touts, but they are increasingly meaningless in a world that still seems to operate on a single currency: currency. Expect the bounce rates (hit one page and then leave the site) of the fly-bys only to increase in our new age of ubiquity, with mobile devices providing everywhere-and-anywhere access. It is hard not to run into big brands: Add to the Times, the HuffPo, the Guardian, and Mail Online such top-of-Google sites as Examiner.com and eHow.

Counting unique visitors — increasingly — is like counting air.

ARPU itself is just a beginning at better counting. Some will say it’s too general, the “A” as in average, just too broad to be useful. So companies can segment it, especially as they value core customers — say, the RPU of readers who read 50 pages a month compared to those who don’t.

Consider, in addition, how ARPU can be stretched and fine-tuned: mobile ARPU, smartphone ARPU, iPad ARPU, video-consuming visitor ARPU. Into the future, as each digital reader is offered an array of niche (sports, travel, health) products, increasing the ARPU of core readers becomes even more important. Much easier to upsell a customer, in any trade, than get a new one.

In addition, increasing ARPU is a better investment, says Scout Analytics’ Matt Shanahan, than either increasing sales volume or decreasing sales expense.

Some execs told me that ARPU is getting more important in the age of paid reader digital access, as, this week, Time Inc. ratifies that new age with its all-access provisioning for all 21 of its consumer magazine titles. While eCPM (the effective cost-per-thousand rate publishers get for their advertising, taking into account sponsorships and several sales types) is the preferred metric for ad efficiency, the emerging ARPU number can combine both how much a unique visitor provides in subscription (or pay per view, day, week) revenue and how much advertising revenue, on average, that unique enables.

Bonus question of 2011: What does the cross-platform (weekend print/daily digital, for instance) ARPU look like?

This isn’t an idea that’s alien to the legacy newspaper and magazine business — we’d have to combine a few legacy numbers to get an Average Revenue Per Print Subscriber number — but the twists and turns, and added data, of the digital business give ARPU and its offspring increasing relevance.

It is all coming down to the same two revenue sources — circulation and advertising — just moved to the new digital business, gradually. (Lee Enterprises this week accepted Journalism Online’s advice and is up-charging print subscribers as it rolls out six tests.) As everyone toys with reader pricing, bundling, and add-ons, add up circulation and advertising, and we’ve got those increasingly familiar economics of transition.

Image by Thiophene_Guy used under a Creative Commons license.

Brill, Crovitz, Sell Newspaper Paywall Operator Journalism Online to RR Donnelley

Steve Brill and Gordon Crovitz have sold Journalism Online, the newspaper paywall company they founded in 2009, to Chicago-based printing company RR Donnelley. Terms haven’t been disclosed. Journalism Online is supposed to help print publishers operate online subscription services, and to date it has publicly launched with a handful of smaller publishers. News Corp., which also publishes this site, bought a stake in the company last year and is selling it to RR Donnelley as part of  the deal; News Corp. says its investment has appreciated “considerably.”