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Norm Pearlstine: ‘It’s not yet clear what people will pay for.’

Few people have had as illustrious a career in publishing as Norm Pearlstine, who retired in July from Time Inc. He spent 14 years at Time Inc., serving as the company’s editor in chief from 1995 to 2005, and returning in 2013 as chief content officer from Bloomberg LP, where he had the same title. Pearlstine is advising media companies including Money.net and has returned to writing, tackling topics including North Korea, Trump and the media. Our conversation has been lightly edited.

Which media models are most interesting to you these days?
It’s still a tough business. The New York Times is doing great stuff, but I don’t know if the revenues from the subscription can overcome the continued pressures on print, and they seem to be doing as well as anyone. And there are still lot of stories being read by people who aren’t paying for them. Conferences have certainly been important to a place like Fortune. At Money.net, I’m trying to create a credible news service with no journalists. I’m very fascinated by the Associated Press, doing automated earnings stories, but that doesn’t change the economics of the business. It’s not yet clear what people will pay for. But there’s some stunningly good work being done. The hard part is, mobile seems so dominant. People will read in depth, but it’s very hard on a phone to even remember where you saw something.

So models for doing online news at scale are still elusive.
You have Bezos at the [Washington] Post, Laurene Jobs buying into The Atlantic. And Michael Bloomberg is the best example of a business that funds journalism, but journalism isn’t at the core of what they do. What makes the money is those 325,000 who pay $25,000 a year for that service.

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