Thursday, 16 April 2009

Charging for online content: pro and anti

The latest issue of Editor & Publisher has a special report To Charge, or Not to Charge? by associate editor Jennifer Saba looking at the issue of whether or not newspapers should charge for content online.
Here are some quotes from the report which are for and against:
Walter Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which has introduced a pay wall: "My phone has been ringing off the wall. It's almost like the conventional wisdom is shifting. A lot of people are interested in looking at it. The point is, if they can't get the news for free, they are going to get it from a newspaper. That is the purpose for charging for content, not to get some heap of money. The purpose is to maintain the print edition."

"My sense is there are a lot of newspaper people who feel sorry for themselves," says Sydney Finkelstein, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. "That is not the way the world of business works." On charging for content he added: "It has to be best in class ... and something they cannot get for free elsewhere."

"I think it's the consequences of the times," says pundit Ken Doctor. "People are acting out of frustration given the straits the industry is in. There is this romantic notion that 'gosh darn it, those readers should just pay.'

Howard Owens, former director of digital publishing at GateHouse Media: "At this point, I would totally oppose it. I think it's going to open you up to failure and greatly expose your newspaper to competition. It's easy for one laid-off reporter — and there are many of them out there — to go and start his own Web site and be totally disruptive."

Matt Lindsay, an economist with Mather Economics in Atlanta: "I think there are a lot of people willing to pay. They just need a vehicle for doing it."

Saba also quotes media consultant Clay Shirky from his blog "Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know 'If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?' To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the Internet just broke."

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