This week came with the announcement from Rupert Murdoch that they will soon begin charging for some online content on News Corporation websites, saying that “Quality journalism is not cheap and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting”. Now, the question on many peoples’ lips is: Will it work? Will people really pay for news? I believe that the answer is no.
There are many who believe that, in fact, it will work. Steve Brill of Journalism Online, believes that “publishers, by offering a mix of paid and free content, can wring subscription revenue out of 5-10 percent of their existing monthly visitors while maintaining 88 percent of page views and 91 percent of ad revenue”.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers recently published a report stating that newspapers have no choice but to start charging for online content, and that they will move back into growth in the year 2012. David Wiadrowski, a media partner at PWC states that “… News, sports and weather and finance are three or four… niche markets that people I believe are prepared to pay for in an online environment”.
However, early indications of public willingness to pay for formerly free media are not at all promising. Comments on the news.com.au page announcing the decision indicated that people did not believe that News Corporation offered quality journalism, and that they would simply switch to another free news source. And why wouldn’t they? In a recession such as the one we are in, no one wants to pay more than they have to. If people want to pay for news, they will buy a newspaper. In the meantime, they can simply watch TV or go to any of the multitude of news sites that offer what they perceive to be the same quality of news and not pay a cent.
But that’s not all. It is even possible that readers could get exactly the same news free of charge. According to Peter Scheer of the Huffington Post, slightly reworded versions of articles are not covered by copyright laws, as they are a different expression of an idea, and copyright laws only apply to the expression. Thus, news.com.au could post up an article and require users to pay to see it, but a news aggregator could take the article, reword it and legally put it up on their site for free viewing.
Besides this, there are other ways to make money through internet publishing. Of course there is advertising, but surely some roads are unexplored. For example, classified ads used to be one of the biggest income generators in newspapers. Who says that this has to change? Another option lies in the archives: many news websites charge money for access to their archives, which one suspects more people would be willing to pay for. The bottom line is that newspapers’ websites certainly can’t make any money without readers, and charging them for formerly free content will cause them to leave en masse.
Will you pay? If not, can you think of better ways for newspapers to make money online?
Daniel Filan is presently on work experience at Open Forum. He shares his home with six snakes; one of whom, Heptet, is pictured. Daniel is currently learning to speak Japanese and looks forward to travelling to Japan next month.