Only 5% would pay for online news

Rob Andrews, editor of paidContent:UK, came to talk about media business models last week.

As a specialist in the subject, he had looked at a variety of business models from the pay-per-view to the free-for-all.  But instead of going down the simple “to pay or not to pay” route, Rob believes we should look at each publication as a separate entity.

Paid content, he says, has worked well for some specialist titles.  The Financial Times has seen profits soar since implementing a pay wall on their website.  People have not clicked away from the site because they place a real value on the FT’s advice.  The value being that it is trusted content and not available for free elsewhere.

I can't imagine paying to read the latest on Katie Price (Photo courtesy of Phil Guest)

But this structure falls down somewhat when it comes to general consumer news.  Let’s imagine that Rupert Murdoch has his way and puts up a pay wall on The Sun website.  The Sun is boasting another attention-grabbing headline about Jordan having plastic surgery/dating a cross-dresser/eating unspeakable delicacies in the jungle.  However, to see the article you must first submit a small fee to Mr Murdoch.  Would you be prepared to pay?  The media mogul seems to think you would.

I, for one, wouldn’t.  Not because I don’t secretly enjoy reading about Jordan’s antics, but because I don’t need to pay.  I can easily get my Jordan gossip fix from a free consumer news website.

Will any of these titles be able to successfully implement a paywall?

As Rob says, unless you have an attachment to a particular news brand, you are very unlikely to pay a fee to access something available free-of-charge elsewhere.

The figures back this up.  Recent research from paidContent:UK and Harris Interactive shows that only 5% would pay to read their favourite website if it started charging.  Unless your content is unique, consumers just aren’t buying it.

However the figures did reveal a possible light at the end of the tunnel.  48% would be prepared to pay a fee if this included a free or discounted paper subscription.  The public response has also been more positive to Readers’ Clubs such as the Guardian’s, which charges readers for benefits such as advance concert tickets.

So it seems there’s no clear way forward.  The talk raised quite a few questions in my mind.  There are an endless number of possibilities for journalism going forward.  Which of these possibilities will be adopted is seemingly anyone’s guess.


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