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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 7, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

    News Corp to charge for content

    Ciara O'Brien

    Has anyone else got a sense of deja vu?

    A few years ago, it was all about free content online. The idea of paying for any content online was laughable.  It would never work, we sniggered.

    Then things changed. Companies realised that the dot-com bubble had burst and investing thousands and thousands in websites with little or no return was no longer sustainable. Something had to be done.

    Subscription walls went up. Content became paid-for. Readers either drifted away to the remaining free sites – of which there were many – or stumped up the subscription fees to continue to access the sites they wanted. Traffic to websites probably saw the inveitable decline once the fees were introduced, but that didn’t deter companies from trying it out anyway.

    Then, the reverse. Sites went free again. Extras, such as archives over a certain date, remained “premium” subscription, but most of the websites, with their current content, were free to access – this website included. And traffic no doubt climbed as we all laughed (again) at the concept of charging people for access to content that they would just go elsewhere for should the price prove just a little too high.

    This week, Rupert Murdoch announced News Corp’s website are to charge for content from next year. That means everything from the Sun to the Times in London will soon be fee-paying for readers to access, although it’s not exactly clear just how the charges will be imposed.

    It’s not the first time that Murdoch has taken the internet to task. Back in March, he threw down the gauntlet to Google over “poaching” content.

    But is a return to straightforward subscriptions really the answer?  Or will web users simply go elsewhere for their news?

    • dealga says:

      I remember how ludicrous it was to be charged for an ireland.com email address…

      Charging for content can only work if all of a website’s peers agree to introduce a charging system at the same time (although would that fall foul of competition law?). Who, for example, would feel that Timesonline is worth paying for if Guardian Unlimited remains free?

      Personally, if I was trying to make money from irishtimes.com, here’s how I would do it. I would give unlimited access to the general news content (Irish, international, business, sport, entertainment…), i.e. the stuff that could be picked up anywhere, and also the letters, the reviews, the editorial and the blogs. I would then charge to read the columnists, the special reports and the supplements that aren’t advertorials already (*cough* the Irish Times Magazine *cough*). I’d advertise the columnists by getting them all to have a blog presence to, at least, give a flavour (i.e. promote) of their pieces.

      Also I would make purchasing easy – one-click purchasing a la iTunes – 1.5 euro for one particular day’s paper or 20c, say, per article. You could then even offer a printer friendly version of the whole paper to then go off and print. The archives should work the same way. Who wants to go through the whole rigmarole of online credit card purchasing over and over again?

    • paul m says:

      the answer to Murdocks problems lie in his television service. If we subscribe to his broadband service (ie sky) then we get free access to his publications as they’ll be included in the price. Likewise other tv operators and telecoms people do a deal with the papers and various other sites as they have done with various stations to offer the end user a variety of packages.

      Nobody is willing to sign up to a paper subscription service. But free content providing will see the observer and possibly guardian online as its first victim. The New York Times nearly fell foul to online last year so its understandable revenue has to come from somewhere.

      itunes works because its the digital equivalent of popping into the music shop to buy your single or album cd. it was an easy transfer but retains the same associated purchasing system – you browse, you listen, you like, you buy.

      You cant really get the jist of an article by the first paragraph or getting a 24 free read of a paper the same way you can hearing the song on the radio or a snippet of it on itunes.

      It would be a shame for the Irish Times to go back to subscription service but i do realise it needs to fund its substantial cost without taking it out of its publication revenue. Maybe bundling it in with the service provider is the way to go?

    • Ciara says:

      Dealga, I believe the NY Times tried that with the columnists, and it didn’t work. Also, I had an ireland.com email address while in college that quickly went by the wayside when they started charging!

      Thankfully though, we’re not a Murdoch-owned paper – plus we’ve only just got rid of the subscriptions to access most of our news content.

    • If you were going to charge a subscription, the reader should get access to, say, Irish Times, Irish Independent and New York Times with the one subscription. People like reading more than 1 newspaper

    • Dónal says:

      I paid for the Irish times subscription and the email address, until it was discontinued.
      The price for both was reasonable so I had no problem in paying. I also pay for the Economist and The New Scientist. These publications are costly to produce and the publishers must get revenue from us or through advertising, or a combination of both.
      . As long as the price for the online versions are reasonable , I have no objection in paying.

    • james says:

      It is still laughable. When this site was was subscription based I simply went elsewhere for my news. Your “bloggers” are not THAT good that I wish to pay for their opinions. Paying for a “free” email address….? Whats that about.?
      Go back to looking for a subcription at the Irish Times and see how low your viewing rates go. Why do you think they changed it?
      Murdoch does not understand the internet. He cannot “OWN” it as he does the airwaves. We pay for his TV because we have no choice.

    • John says:

      “The idea of paying for any content online was laughable.”

      It still is laughable.

    • Don says:

      As Dónal points out, (professional) work costs money, so that if we want to be able to get it, we have to pay. I pay for access to Financial Times (or will do as soon as I renew my subscription), which is fair enough.
      However, I expect one, fairly radical change to take place before digital subscriptions find their form and become routine: As implied by Patrick Dillon, we want access to a number of writers who now work for different papers. The new structure will be access to a selection of writers, not to particular newspapers.

    • Fred says:

      Paid subscribers segments exist if content is of quality and convenient for different types of access (different, mobile, web, on-demand, contextual with back-catalogue,…). Look at Apple apps that are like content portals.

      Micro-pricing and micro-payments of branded content across platforms might be the way to go. Similar to content packages sold by cable and satellite operators.