11 May 2009

Fee or Free

Using as a springboard Rupert Murdoch's signal last week that his newspapers, including the Sun and the Times, could start charging for online access over the next year, Guardian Media writer Chris Tryhorn today considers whether the days of free content are (or should be) numbered.

Among the points he raises:

* At least among the major national UK newspaper websites, there are signs that online readership may have hit a plateau, with broadband access now widespread and online habits relatively settled. Even if readershp has not peaked, some industry executives believe more traffic may not make much difference to their ability to generate new advertising revenue. Fees from readers look more appealing ...

* ... But how to charge is a big question. Rather than relying on a subscription model, a solution could involve micropayments – although there is no consensus on how much they would be or exactly how they might work ...

* ... And whatever the optimal system, it will need technology to drive it. `In the same way that the iPod helped sales of digital music, newspapers hope that there is a device on its way to make the online paper seem more valuable than it does on a computer screen,' Tryhorn writes. Although there has been some newspaper interest in Amazon's new Kindle reader, `few believe these first-generation digital readers represent an iPod moment.'

Sidebar links offer additional perspectives on the viability of charging for news content. Among them, Robert Andrews says `news publishers let the free genie out of the bottle – and it can't easily be put back'; he cautions that any publishers thinking about charging for content must consider whether what they offer is unique, must-read information. But Stephen Brook reports that the prevailing sentiment at a major magazine conference last week was that readers would increasingly and inevitably be asked to pay.

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