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.