22 June 2009

Some People Want to Pay. Let Them.

A sizable number of readers actually want to pay for online news -- and newspaper websites should let them, writes veteran observer Steve Outing.

Outing has long criticised the idea of newspaper publishers demanding payment for general news content on their websites. But he says some people are more than willing to voluntarily pay "because they recognize the value they're getting from the output of professional journalists and want to financially support it so that it will continue to be produced."

In his latest Stop the Presses column for Editor & Publisher, Outing highlights a new wave of services and payment technologies. All follow the same basic tenet: The user determines whether to pay for online content or to support a specific Web site, as well as how much he/she will spend.

The content publisher is essentially out of the decision. Outing says this is a necessary concession in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits to be gained by allowing online content "to be linked to or even travel freely around the Web, e-mail, social networks, blogs, news aggregators, news-specific search engines, and (of course) Google." He suggests that monetisation of a growing online audience for news, made possible by many other players sending people to it, "outweighs the loss in advertising revenue and institutional influence that's likely to occur if news gets locked down or barriers put in front of news consumers."

However, he advocates keeping most (not all, but most) online content free rather than erecting barriers "that could hurt your online advertising revenue stream and institutional reach and clout." He sees the voluntary payments as contributing to a supplemental pay-for-content revenue stream, drawing on the power of the network and facilitating "the widest possible distribution of your content and brand."

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