The circulation figures for traditional printed newspapers have plummeted in recent years and most major papers now offer free online content. Some have even gone so far as to stop publishing the printed word, preferring to concentrate on their online presence.
All British newspapers, for eample, with the exception of the Financial Times, offer exactly the same content (free) online as appears in the (paid for) hard copy available at the newsagent.
Providing news, however, be it for a hard copy or online, requires income, and for this the reliance has been placed on online advertising. For many, though, this doesn’t appear to sufficient, online advertising not bringing in the required income and resulting in some papers running at a loss.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, owner of television stations and newspapers all over the world (including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World), now wants to introduce some sort of payment system for his online newspapers, be it in the form of a subscription or on a per article basis. He is reported as saying that such a system will be in operation before next June.
But will such a system work? There are arguments on both sides.
There are so many free sources of news (and just about any other subject you can think of) that many will simply not subscribe to a website if they can get the same content elsewhere and for free. It might work for niche or specialist subjects – maybe a National Geographic or Science Journal type – but that is by no means certain. There is an awful lot of information out there, even on those types of subject matter.
It is argued that, whilst people will not want to pay to read about a bomb going off in Iraq or the latest shoes being worn by Katie Price (who?), they might be willing to pay for an exclusive such as the recent expenses scandal in the UK. Maybe. Maybe not.
Major sources of news, such as Google, the BBC and others, are unlikely to begin charging for content, with the result that those actually being bold enough to charge will probably see a significant drop in online readership and, correspondingly, a fall in online advertising revenue.
Granted the newspapers have to do something to safeguard their existence and at least not run at a loss, but times have changed, and trying to put the clock back is maybe not the best way forward.
There is, of course, a big difference between making enough to cover costs and have sufficient left over for a comfortable lifestyle and trying to make enough to buy a few more media corporations.
Would you pay for something when exactly the same thing is available elsewhere for free?