Sunday, August 9, 2009...5:50 pm

More arguments against the newspaper online pay wall

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Here’s a nice piece from Scooping The News that outlines clearly why they think charging for online news content is a bit of a non-starter.

It covers the main bases:

  • The supply of web content is now vast
  • Charging hasn’t worked for anyone else yet.
  • Newspapers don’t have compelling enough content to compete
  • There will always be free competition

And as Rupert Murdoch has noticed – the main free competitor in the English-speaking world will be the BBC. In the face of such asymmetric competition, I wonder if anyone can make a go of charging for content online.

More on the position of the BBC in all this to come…

12 Comments

  • I would say people are nowadays wanting to get a broader array of opinions on news content. They don’t just want to read the facts, they want an independent opinion – regardless of whether its left, right, centre, extreme…Too much of the mainstream is pandering to media moguls or politicians…

  • Of the four points outlined here, number three is the killer. Specialist financial newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, The Australian Financial Review, The Financial Times and New Zealand’s The National Business Review all have well-heeled, time poor readers and a vast wealth of hard-to-get-elsewhere reporters from competent business journalist.

    But is anyone really going to pay money to read The Sun online?

  • Not a chance anyone will pay. Back in 1994/5, if all newspapers worldwide had charged for online access the moment they went digital, it MIGHT have created a pay-for-news-online culture (although I don’t think so – it would merely have delayed the web as we now know it by a few years).

    Not now. Far, far too late. I can’t see how on earth they’ve persuaded themselves it will work. Every fact is against it.

  • @Soilman – depends on your definition of ‘not a chance’. The Australian Financial Review has held out with a paywall for more than 10 years.

    I don’t know what the current subscription number is – the paper’s owners are coy about releasing a figure – I do know it is still very low compared with rival online papers and tiny even compared with the paper’s print circulation. One estimate puts it at 3 percent of the print readership.

    I crunched some numbers on paywalls in:
    http://billbennett.co.nz/2009/08/09/charging-online-content-challenge/

    The AFR charges $75 a month for online access – the same as a print subscription so it probably gets around $1 million a year from online subscribers. Not peanuts, but certainly not enough to run a paper and less than it could earn from selling ads to a larger audience.

    Of course, the AFR is a specialist title with a well-heeled audience. It would be very different for everyday newspapers.

  • Exactly. I think there is a pay subscription model for publications that are offering something you genuinely can’t get elsewhere… which seems to mean, in practice, specialist finance titles (FT, WSJ, your AFR etc).

    I just can’t see how this extends to general news, though. Note that even in the ‘old’ days, people didn’t buy newspapers just for the news (which they could have got ‘free’ from BBC TV). A hideous number (readership surveys were always exquisitely embarrassing for journalists) bought a paper for the crossword, or the Sudoku, or the evening telly listings, or some other tiny and obscure part of the rag that had nothing to do with general news.

    About the only thing I reckon an online paper could charge for is the wretched crossword.

  • Well there is another thing they could charge for: sport. I wrote about this earlier today after a moment of blinding insight.

    http://billbennett.co.nz/2009/08/11/newspaper-pay-wall-work/

  • Of course the trouble with the web is it offers an incredibly wide range of opinion – all available for free. There’s no compelling reason to subscribe to an old-style newspaper just for that. A newspaper package will inevitably be limited compared to the free material on offer on the web.

  • Or indeed any added-value coverage of a niche interest. The focus needs to be on providing material that benefits the reader in a material way – say in monetary terms through sports or other betting, or participatory entertainment through fantasy manager-type games.

    And, yes – privileged access to celebs counts, if you can package it right.

  • Today’s Telegraph has a nice summary of all this.

    Although the notion that civilisation is at risk because copyright is under threat made me snigger.

  • Blimey. All this has made me turn off the computer, put my tweed trousers on and walk to the next village to buy the thankfully still broadsheet Telegraph. In the rain, I might add.

  • You are the saviour of the newspaper industry – the saviour, I say…

  • It seems to me that online newspapers are in a good position to use their content to generate advertising revenue from promoting more page views, rather than alienating more readers with pay walls.