Charging for Online News
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A news executive has a plan to start charging for online news.
Barber said building online platforms that could charge readers on an article-by-article or subscription basis was one of the key challenges facing news organisations. “How these online payment models work and how much revenue they can generate is still up in the air,” Barber said in a speech at at a Media Standards Trust event at the British Academy last night. But I confidently predict that within the next 12 months, almost all news organisations will be charging for content.”
Barber is the latest leading executive to suggest the newspaper industry has to radically overhaul its existing business model. Rupert Murdoch said in May that he expected his News Corporation newspaper websites to start charging for access within a year. The News Corp chairman and chief executive said free newspaper websites were a “flawed” business model. Murdoch’s rival, the New York Times, could begin charging for online news within the next three to four weeks.
Barber said last night that the Financial Times had pioneered the concept of a “frequency model”, giving access to a limited number of articles on the web before asking users to subscribe. “We are seeing sustained and growing revenue as a result of our strategy of premium pricing for quality, niche global content — crucial at a time of weakening advertising,” he added. “Many news organisations are following suit in charging, latterly the New York Times which had previously come down in favour of free access to its own content.”
The Financial Times website, FT.com, has more than 1.3 million non-paying registered users worldwide, with another 110,000 paying subscribers.
The only news organizations that have had even a modicum of success at charging for online content are: WSJ. FT. That’s the list. Both, not coincidentally, are specialized publications aimed at businessmen and provide news not readily available elsewhere. Often, the subscriptions are paid for by companies or at least written off on taxes.
If NYT goes behind a subscription wall, people will simply stop reading the NYT. I’m not one of those conservatives who thinks that would be a good thing; the paper puts out some extraordinarily good reporting on a wide variety of topics. It would be missed. But not for long. Its best reporters would simply move on to a company less stupidly run.
I’m a news junkie and make a living consuming and analyzing news. I do some occasional reporting but, fundamentally, I’m a commentator not a reporter. But, even though I wouldn’t really miss $60 a year, I won’t subscribe to the NYT if they go through with their plan. I simply can’t imagine that enough others would do so to keep the paper afloat.
Newspapers have been going under at a fantastic rate for years now. Most cities are down to one significant paper. But, aside from niche consumers of local news, no one who doesn’t make a living in journalism much cares. So long as one can chose from a dozen or more terrific products online, who needs the local paper, anyway?