Newspapers: What Would You Pay For?

There’s a bunch of news and interesting writing around the forthcoming efforts to charge for content (specifically online newspaper content). A recent study conducted by The American Press Institute and ITZ Publishing/Belden Interactive, involving 118 online interviews, finds various attitudes and strategies among the majority of news publications that are moving toward a paid model.

Here’s the top-line summary of the research from Media Buyer and Planner:

  • 58% of publishers said they are considering charging for content, but 49% said they have no timetable in mind for how that will play out.
  • 12% said they plan to charge for content by the end of the year, 18% said they will do so in the first quarter of 2010, and 10% said they would begin charging by the beginning of next summer
  • 10% currently charge for some portion of the web content

The models under consideration:

  • 38% say they will limit full access to stories to monthly subscribers
  • 28% say they will likely offer monthly subscriptions as well as micropayments for individual articles
  • 15% expect to offer monthly subscriptions, micropayments, and “day passes”
  • 19% expect news articles to remain free but that they will produce content specifically for the website which would be behind a pay wall
  • 9% say they may adopt a system which would make visitors pay separately for each story they want to read.

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What these charts above say is the following:

  1. The mostly likely strategy is a free homepage with headlines and content snippets. Full article access would be paid
  2. Single article micropayments is the top monetization strategy
  3. Top objectives of paid strategy: 1) preserving print circulation, 2) new revenues

Allan Mutter focuses in on the contradictions and hidden pessimism of the report:

A bare 51% of the newspaper publishers in the United States believe they can charge successfully for access to their interactive content, according to a survey released today. The other 49% of publishers either fear that pay walls will fail or just aren’t sure.

The survey, which was conducted for the latest in the series of industry conferences this year studyng how to monetize the valuable content most newspapers give away for free, shows that publishers who are worried about charging for content have good reason to be concerned.

A great deal of the public discussion around pay walls in the newspaper industry, I believe, is to condition the public regarding the idea that they’ll soon have to pay for online news content. Most people will be reluctant to pay for what they have been able to receive for free but there might be success in holding on to print subscribers this way. If everyone goes to paid simultaneously it will have a greater chance of success.

PaidContent summarizes results from some of the newspaper sites that currently charge for online access. The conclusion is that they’re mediocre performers and subscriptions have been generally lackluster.

Online newspapers are going to have to balance circulation and ad sales because ad revenues will take a hit from a pay wall strategy like this. The NY Times abandoned TimesSelect because it calculated it could make more money from ads than subscriptions.

What would you do if you were running a traditional news organization? Would you go to a paid strategy? How would you execute?

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6 Responses to “Newspapers: What Would You Pay For?”

  1. David Mihm Says:

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, news is a commodity. What these stats indicate to me is that 38% of these companies will be out of business. SOMEone is going to continue to give it away for free and that company will reap ALL of the ad revenues.

    The value in newspapers is their editorial ability to weed out worthless stories from the ones that people want to or should want to, in the editor’s opinion, read.

    To answer your question, if I were running a traditional news organization, I’d outsource all of my pure news to a free outlet and focus on engaging bloggers and non-traditional journalists to contribute and syndicate their content to me in return for visibility and a cut of the ad revenue on their stories. I’d hire a charismatic editor at a hefty price and cut back on all of my overhead.

    In other words, largely what the Seattle PI has decided to do.

  2. Malcolm Lewis Says:

    Agree with David — most news is a commodity. Charging premium prices for a commodity is unlikely to work.

    At the risk of sounding trite, content is key. Less is more. Focus on quality, not quantity. Give me something I can’t find elsewhere online. Become the trusted source of commentary and analysis on local news in your market.

    Publishing success online = unique and compelling (ie non-commodity) content which drives loyal and engaged audiences which drives advertising revenue. Eg: http://mossblog.allthingsd.com/

  3. Tim Cohn Says:

    What will happen to their upstream referrals and overall visits / page views if they wall off their content?

  4. Newspapers: What Would You Pay For? « Donkey on the Edge Says:

    [...] Newspapers: What Would You Pay For? via Screenwerk by Greg Sterling on 9/21/09 [...]

  5. Pay Walls: Storm Clouds on the Horizon « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] Walls: Storm Clouds on the Horizon By Greg Sterling I wrote a couple of posts yesterday about newspapers and pay strategies and their look to mobile as a critical new platform. In the first piece, I summarized a survey from [...]

  6. Newspapers and ‘the Future of News’ « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] slide has slowed or stopped. (MediaPost has more detail.) And large numbers of newspapers are going to erect pay walls either this year or early next year. But free and non-profit news sites such as the Bay Area News [...]

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