Newspapers Must Charge for Online Content

As the newspaper industry grapples with how to embrace the Web and remain financially viable, I’ve become increasingly convinced newspapers must charge for content in some way, shape or form.

To some, this is a strange approach given premium services have been a failure, which is why most newspapers are still trying to drive online revenue through advertising. Meanwhile, more newspapers are disappearing or becoming streamlined, online-only operations.

The biggest argument against the ability for newspapers to charge for premium access is consumers will turn elsewhere for the newspapers they want.

In many respects, this is accurate, which is why newspapers need to focus on charging for value-added content (columns, features, archives, editorials, inside access) that aren’t available through the Web.

Of course, many newspapers may not have the luxury of offering content people want to pay to read. But I think some the world’s leading newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Telegraph and The Guardian can successfully pull it off.

If you look a look at the blogosphere, for example, it’s the major newspapers that attract the most links. This suggests newspapers are writing the most interesting content, which should be a pretty good indication it has some value.

My theory is the major newspapers will start to introduce premium services soon. Janet Robinson, CEO with the New York Times Co., said earlier this week that premium services are being explored that are “centered on a metered model and a Times membership model with special offerings.”

Meanwhile, the Financial Times has quietly launched a new system whereby online readers need to register. There are two free packages, as well as premium packages that sell for $3.49 and $5.75 a week.

You have to know media mogul Rupert Murdoch is watching carefully, and it’s only a matter of time before the Wall St. Journal, the New York Post and The Times launch premium services.

If the New York Times, Wall St. Journal, Financial Times and others go premium, it will likely encourage more newspapers and magazines to offer premium services as well.

The pendulum is slowly starting to swing from free to fee. It’s not going to be widespread or swing all the way back to fee but the free-for-all is coming to an end for many major publications.

For more, check out VentureBeat and ValleyWag, which talks about New York Times Silver and Gold packages that could be sold for $150 and $300 respectively.

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  • Filbert

    I can't wait for this to happen, all the freebies out there are runing me because of all the reading I need to do! I haven't bought a paper in forever because of all the freebies out there, charging will let me regain my life!

  • steve Dodd

    There has to be a way for these companies to recover costs and invest in solid, authenticated journalism. If we lose the value of real journalism verses the "Social Rumour Mill", then we as a society stand to lose because of lack of real information. I'd also expect that once this model is figured out, other lower forms of information sources will also begin to look at cost recoveries. The total infrastructure to support the Social Web as we know it today has a cost. Once it becomes ingrained in our day to day life (and people can't live without it), this too will cease to be freely available. The new breed of Social Web aggregation and analysis providers are likely not going to be able to continue to access all of this content for free. They all have a revenue model so why should that not be shared with the providers of that content so that they can continue to expand their service offerings?

  • John

    The only thing that would probably work is to sell access to a bunch of popular newspaper for a nominal monthly cost. Any other way would just force people to get their news at sites that dont charge. They will always be there.

  • Copywryter

    First, no one will pay for 'news' in the classic sense. Reporting on the news is not journalism.

    Second, most 'authentic journalism' on newspapers is not very good. Writers and entire publications have obvious bias and political affiliations. I read a tech article on the Globe and Mail recently that made me cringe. They should have paid ME to read it.

    Third, newspapers better get on the damn technology bandwagon if they think anyone is going to pay for anything they do. My message here is: learn to integrate tech into journalism or you are going to die. People will pay for perceived value. Throwing the odd hyperlink into a piece is not what I mean. Learn Flash, use Javascript, build infographics, create video, mash data, integrate polls, improve your comment sections, learn who reads you, reach out to them, track habits, engage patterns.

    Start offering something people might actually buy or you'll be the equivalent of a food bank.