Thursday, August 06, 2009

Paying For Content

Newspapers are watching ad revenue trickle away, off to the Internet where the audience is larger.

News content has followed, with free sites offering the day's articles as written by reporters who are getting paid to write those stories that people are reading for free. Internet ad revenue, unfortunately, is not going to be enough to fund all those employees in the news room.

Rupert Murdoch has made some noise about charging for news content online. What is now free at the New York Post would become available for a fee in the middle of 2010.

He's already charging for most of the Wall Street Journal's online content, but then again, that particular newspaper has never been free. It's also unique, in its renowned coverage of the business world, and it's a top-seller for good reason.

But if something has been given away for free, is it now too late to start asking people to pay? The New York Times discovered that charging for their big-name editorials didn't exactly have folks flocking to their wallets. That particular experiment in paid content proved to be a failure.

There are so many sources of news online, from reliable providers, that it seems unlikely someone would pay for the privilege of reading one of Mr. Murdoch's newspapers when the same news could be had from elsewhere for free.

If readership drops, ad revenue will follow it down, and then Mr. Murdoch will have to decide how much to charge when he's trying to recover costs of production as well as make up for lost ad revenue as readers go elsewhere. What's the limit that will be tolerated?

The horse is already out of the barn, in the form of free news content. Too late to close the door and start charging for the news, not unless every single newspaper did the same, and that doesn't appear likely.

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