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Tim Wu wrote an entire book called "The Attention Merchants" documenting the long history (going back to the 1800s) of various forms of media being commercialized with attention and data.

The "penny press" -- starting in the 1830s -- offered low-cost newspapers, basically at a loss, which were then subsidized with advertising. (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_press) A similar business model was then used for most newspapers, radio, network television stations, national magazines, cable news/TV subscriptions and on, and on. At each stage, the level of demographic and geographic targeting became more sophisticated. The modern web-based media is basically the logical conclusion of this two-century evolution.

What's more, profitable subscriptions for media are at an all-time high. The issue is that the spoils go to only a few winners, like Amazon, Netflix, SirusXM, Spotify, Comcast/TimeWarner, etc. A real issue is that people are more willing to pay subscriptions for music & entertainment than for news & analysis. But that's changing.

NYTimes, WaPo, WSJ have large-scale digital subscriber programs, and mid-market publishers are following suit. But, it's never going to have as much scale as ad/attention-based monetization.

I tend to agree with the sentiment embedded in your statement -- that if media are subscriber-based, they tend to be better aligned with those readers. But people are definitely accustomed to free on the web.

I recommend you check out "The Attention Merchants" to learn a bit about how news and information has been paid for over time. You shouldn't blame measurement; you should, if anything, blame the media industry's unit economics: http://amzn.to/2osFiNz


Any recommendations written by a historian instead of the author?

I haven't come across anything that is like a "history textbook of marketing", but would be glad to read something like that one day. I am sure something similar must show up in marketing/communications/journalism graduate schools.

I can't find a reference but as a news junkie I recall reading where the NYT was a vehicle for apparel. It grew on advertising for dresses, primarily.

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