34 thoughts on “Open Thread: Should Newspapers Charge for Online Content”

  1. If newspapers want to cover their online editions with WSJ type keylock images then they should think really hard about why they have an online edition at all. I won’t miss em if they disappear .

    1. There is NO WAY in the world; beyond Mr Murdock’s world that there will be an ongoing successful model for paying for content. If I do a search for a news topic, I get a million sources. WHY would I pay for something so readily abundant and FREELY available?
      It is NOT going to happen. It is just wishful thinking for Rupert Murdock.

    2. You can back into those articles for free from from Google News. Just copy and paste the title of the locked article you want into the Google News search and go.

    3. Oh foolish people. If newspapers all go paid online, there will be no free content available. Who do you think provides the content you are currently seeing online?

  2. Hi Om,

    Hope you are doing well. The only way that newspapers can survive by charging for online content is if they discover a time machine. That way they can go back to the mid 1990’s and stop the mad rush for “mindshare” during the dotcom days of Pets.com and argue against the strategy of giving everything away to capture consumers brand loyalty for life. Remember that one?

    The horse has been out of the barn for over a decade. It’s too late to close the barn door now. People expect everything for free and businesses set that expectation over several years.


  3. I’d pay for a site aggregating certain insightful and fearless writers/bloggers. I would never pay for any of the establishment media because I never ever learn anything from them. Useless all of them.

  4. I think they should charge for it, but the charge needs to be reasonable. Most of the time they charge way too much for something that didn’t require paper, printing or distribution. I’d gladly pay 2 dollars a month for a news paper and up to 10 dollars a year for a magazine, but no more than that. Too often the online content costs more than print and all that does is drive people to free sources. Make it reasonable and people don’t mind giving their support. I didn’t vote in your poll up there because you didn’t have an option for “reasonable cost.”

  5. I know some papers have their current issue online for free (ad supported) but to read back issues you have to pay a small fee. Sometimes it’s something like $5 access for their full back catalog of issues for the day, other sites I’ve seen daily access to for as little as 25¢ for a single story.

    I think disruption should also be an option. Don’t want to pay for the content? Then watch a 30 second spot before the content is unlocked. Something similar to what Salon does.

    I think other writers will fair better if they strike-out on their own, paying themselves by collecting ad revenue from their own blogs, and taking their employer (the middle man) out of the loop. Perhaps creating affiliate blogs between various reputable reporters and selling their ad media as a network.

    Here’s a good story worth reading:
    Clay Shirky – Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable

  6. Print newspapers make most of their money off ads as it is. The cost of a paper is a supplementary charge. Given that print distribution has exorbitant costs, online distribution is a major cost savings to traditional print publishers. Why don’t they just make the transition??? Because print circulation is about 10% of total audience reach, while online advertising revenue is 10% of total ad revenue — the economics are nearly the perfect inverse of what they should be.

    How is this possible?

    Print advertising generates way more revenue because expenditures by marketers far outweigh online spends.
    Print advertising generates way more revenue because it’s for more expensive on a per view basis.
    The last generation of marketers have been slow to adapt.

    It’s inevitable that print distribution will fade away.

    Online advertising is growing while advertising in general is declining right now.
    The price gap for advertising will continue to narrow.
    Nowadays, even the smallest of marketers can easily set up online campaigns now that will outperform comparable print campaigns.

    The gutenberg press was innovative centuries ago. It’s time for Print news publishers to get leaner and adapt. Charging for premium content online is the best idea they can come up with? I’m not buying it!

  7. Om,

    I’m not a fan of subscriptions. You can get readers to subscribe to one or two publishers perhaps, but the beauty of the web is in constantly finding interesting content from disparate sources.

    So instead I think they should charge per article using micropayments.

    So much has been said lately by Shirky and others about why micropayments won’t work which is very narrow-minded in my opinion. Micropayments can and would work if publishers offered both free and paid versions of their content. Casual readers could dip their toes with the free version, but habitual readers would pay a few cents to get a clean page with no pagination or ads, unmoderated comments, exclusive features, etc.


  8. Make no mistake…cracking the local news “newspaper 2.0” is one of the biggest opportunities of the past 20 years. The time is right.

  9. online publication are already advt supported and have no associated cost of printing and distribution …online content should be always free as advt supported

  10. Surprised no one has linked to this


    “Paying for online news: Sorry, but the math just doesn’t work.” By Martin Langeveld — great piece out this morning. Basic argument (adjust the math as you like) is that charging for content will reduce ad revenue faster than it will increase subscription revenue — so this is simply not an option…

  11. Pushed submit before I was finished with that thought — while you mention this in your post you don’t draw out that most important point — that the very economics of charging is what causes subscriptions to decline. Without making this point in your post you naturally skew the responses

  12. I used to work in the newspaper business from 1998 – 2003… I know it very well… Durning that time (the up and coming .com era) we spent countless hours in meetings discussing how we should distribute content. My position was always that newspapers diluted the value of their product if they gave content away online. They can never make up in advertising online what they make in their print editions.

    Hershey doesn’t give candy bars away for free. That wouldn’t make any sense at all. So why should newspapers give their “product” away for free? Advertising is one answer to that question but not a total solution their business dilemma. I agree with Chuck’s statement above, newspapers have been “giving it away” and brought this on themselves a long time ago. They made their bed, now they have to lie in it…

  13. I sure hope we dont have to start paying. Although I can understand that it costs a lot of money to deliver content like this. Robert Carl Parisien Natick MA. I guess the moral of the story is that nothing’s free. I lament the day when we pay for everything and anything important

  14. I read an article in Time magazine a few weeks ago about how to save the newspaper industry. One of the ideas was to create an iTunes-like system for viewing newspaper content online: you pay a certain price for each article (which would have to be very small in this case, just like 99 cents was revolutionary for a song) and you then get unlimited access to that article.

    The bottom line is that it has to be convenient. That is, it has to be quick, you shouldn’t have to enter your credit card number each time, and it should be ubiquitous over all newspaper sites.

    What will happen is that the professional, high-quality newspapers–the New York Times, for instance, or the Wall Street Journal–will go to this system, and people will quickly get used to paying such a small price for such high-quality content. Meanwhile, the crappy newspapers that people aren’t willing to pay for will be underfunded and will eventually die out. Market forces!

    Meanwhile, the websites will continue making some money off of ads, and that revenue may increase as more people switch from print to internet.

    I really think that this could work. If it’s implemented in time.

  15. Free, ad-supported, content. Seems to work for television, blogs, and music streaming services.
    They need to monetize around other things. such as: NY Times crossword app for iPhone, Wall Street Journal minute on news shows, Sports Illustrated feeds into other sites. Charge the site owners for the content and let them monetize around their own ads/subscription fees.

  16. Um, the NY Times TRIED charging for it’s archive. It was a miserable failure and they went back to a free archive.

  17. I would never pay for online content, and I believe most people won’t either. If newspapers start charging for it, it will be valueless. They must figure out a business model that would not charge people for online content, and I believe it’s doable

  18. WSJ model may be working well presently but it is not the only revenue generating model. WSJ can bring in traffic and let people keep coming back even though the content is paid, just because WSJ has created a name for itself. But if any other online newspaper achieves the same standing as WSJ has been able to achieve, then continuing with the paid online newspaper edition will be a problem.

  19. When compared to traditional advertising it becomes obvious the objective of marketing.

    Marketing is not what generates a sale or closes the sale. Marketing in any business is to attract a potential customer.

    It is the responsibility of the business, be it bricks and mortar or online to close and complete the sale.

    So the question is, will advertising decline? Well to answer that question then simply ask yourself, does your business still need a flow of potential customers?

    If there is a replacement for advertising, online or offline, then maybe.

    Sure businesses have tighter budgets now, but should they increase their potential customer flow or let it dwindle in times of recession?

    Simple answer, never let the customer flows dwindle. Cutting costs and expenses is important when revenue drops, but cutting expenses will not cause revenues to increase. Only increasing customer flow or web traffic will.

    Cost per click and Cost Per Action Online Advertising is a wiser investment now more than ever as businesses begin to measure the quality of marketing efforts and the ROI.

  20. Where do you dreamers think all that content comes from on Google? From bloggers? I’m a working journalist and I’ve never seen a blogger at a murder, car accident, social event or town meeting. From average citizens? Hey it’s fun the first five times, after that it’s a bit too much like work, especially if you bother with troublesome things like confirming information and talking to enough people to understand a situation. From people who want you to buy something, whether it’s an idea or a product or a service? Yeah, for sure.

    If you put newspapers and television stations out of business, the flow of actual usable information will shrivel and you won’t have “a million different sources” any more. You’ll have a pile of steaming crap. And they will go out of business, because all this talk about the success of online advertising is a hooey in terms of supporting an information gathering and processing center capable of really and truly telling you what is going on and giving you validated information you can depend upon. Look at Seattle: The newspaper converted to online, went from 150 in the newsroom to 25. There is no way 25 people have the critical mass necessary to cover Seattle satisfactorily. It will be a fine website, perhaps specializing in one facet of information. But there’s only enough revenue from the Web for 25 people, not 150.

    Reduce the number of people in the world who get out of bed every day to go find out what’s going on by the same ration and you won’t know what’s going on.

    This “information wants to be free” crap needs to stop. If you think that’s a valid argument, go on down to Starbucks and tell them coffee wants to be free. Then hit Banana Republic and tell them that. While you’re at it, talk to Steve Jobs and tell him Apple computers need to be free. Your landlord, too; tell him his rooms want to be free. Good luck with that.

    Are the books put out by internet gurus who tell us “information wants to be free” available for free? If not, why not? Are they making speaking engagements for free?

    What about you. Are you working for free?

    If “free” is the business model, I’m all for someone else trying it. As a working journalist, I’d like to get paid, straight up, for the value of what I produce.

    1. You’re right. 90% of news reported or discussed on blogs right now comes from newspapers. Over time new business models will emerge. For example how Josh Marshall at TPM focuses on one story and gets information from readers is very encouraging. Or the new HuffPo investigative fund, or the new micro grants at DailyKos.

      But in the near to medium term there will definitely be a dangerous news coverage gap. I blogged on this last year:

  21. Some perspective from India…
    There are news agencies like ANI, PTI, IANS which bring out slightly rehashed news stories which appear in UK/US. They are cheaper than having a syndication arrangement with any publication there. Search for any “interesting” story on Google you might find result of a particular “thaindian.com” popping up first. What they do is just publish ANI, IANS, PTI stories with an earlier dateline. The result they get more visits than the newspaper than the newssite which published in reality. So much for the ad-revenue which they were supposed to get online!
    So I won’t blame Murdoch for thinking like this.He doesn’t have any clue how the internet works else he would have done something about sites like these than churn out paid online content! =D

  22. They should be able to charge, but people won’t put up with it…so they won’t be able to, or it’ll suffer the same fate as the print newspapers are right now.

  23. It’s only a matter of time before the quality press will start charging for on-line content. I think when ‘the times’ moves that way others will follow and fast.Just like they have for every other innovation. The model already works for specialist publications and for broadcasters with added value content available for subscribers and those who want to pay and an ad supported basic edition provided free-the best of both worlds for the publisher as they get revenue from advertising and revenue from subscriptions. As for the tabloid press, they are already in essence a free sampler for premium/paid for content via chatlines, multimedia, gaming sites etc all owned by the companies who own the papers. Apart from all of this many of the big players own or are part-owned by the same companies who you probably get your internet access from and the same companies whose movies and TV shows you watch and who own the rights to the music you listen to and control the venues where you go to see them or hear them play. There are only a couple of dozen significant media companies worldwide whatever the delivery system, medium or content. And for anyone who doesn’t believe they will pay for premium content-you are welcome to a world of constant rolling adverts, community television, amateur blogs etc. or of course pirated/stolen content but then wasn’t it always thus.

  24. Sure they should. One of the reasons newspaper subscriptions are down, is because people figure they can get the same stuff online for free. I worked as an online producer for a newspaper, and was shocked that we put up the same content that was in the daily paper online! What benifit was there to getting the actual paper then?! None. Then we wondered why our paper subscriptions were going down. Uh..duh.

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