Steven Brill’s Journalism Online Preps Beta Test

Co-founder: We don't know what the best paid content model is, but we're going to find out. Soon.

For this feature on paid content (“What It Will Take for Paid Content to Work”) I spoke with Steven Brill, media entrepreneur and founder of Journalism Online, to get an update on the ambitious, somewhat mysterious project.

In an interview last week, Brill said that more than 1,200 publishers have signed on, and that the company is “probably 10 days to two weeks away” from sending a beta group of affiliates its “reader software” to test. If all goes well, he said, we could see a bigger rollout of software in January or perhaps before.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Brill — founder of CourtTV, American Lawyer and most recently the failed Clear — told me. “We’re working with lots of our affiliates on different models — it’s been our position all along that this is not putting up a pay wall. It’s a gradual process.”

He said since Journalism Online first launched in April, “Economic forces have conspired to shift the debate from if to how and when. Conversations I have now with [prospective affiliates], no one is asking why we should we do this. I don’t have those conversations anymore.”

I asked Brill about Rupert Murdoch’s well-publicized threats to pull News Corp. content from Google, which Murdoch says is “stealing” his content.

“I don’t want to speak, I’ll let other people speak about that, but when I saw his comments I was surprised,” Brill said, adding that search traffic was one of if not the best source of circulation revenue for the Journal. “Our affiliates will surely keep their stuff on Google.”

Brill also said something that was refreshing, if scary, for content publishers looking for the golden ticket to paid content success. “What we say is, ‘We don’t know,’ and they don’t know either, but we’re going to find out soon. There’s this religious debate going on whether micropayments are better, or subscriptions are the way to go. I’m pretty sure it’s subscriptions but I don’t know. But that’s why we have so many options — it’s not a Sony/Betamax/VHS decision.”

[Photo via the New York Times]