— aleatory

Newspaper Paywalls

Interesting analysis on the viability of newspapers online from local political commentator Owen Polley over at 3k Versts.

Correctly Polley points out this is in a way make or break for print media,

It’s a commonplace that newspapers, almost universally, are now struggling to return a profit, simply because people have become so used to receiving content for free, over the internet.

This is indeed true, as even the most cursory of glances at circulation trends over recent years will attest to.

He contends –

Any blogger will acknowledge that, while blogs can analyse, it is still main stream journalists who gather the raw material for most content which finds its way unto the internet.

And it’s here where I would find fault. The idea is that news, in the pure meaning of the word, is something that depends on mainstream media to be communicated effectively.

Indeed by rushing to make people pay for content that while timely is editorially lighter than the not-so-mainstream yet heavier than free sources such as the BBC, papers risk exposing their business model as extinct before they can truly understand how to provide an online service consumers will pay for.

For example, let’s look at who has gone before.

FT.com has implemented a profitable paywall for a few years now. People subscribe to a service that provides analysis and informed commentary not seen elsewhere. In business 101 parlance they have a USP for their online content and it works. By contrast consumers do not care what source they get for a general news story online. Indeed aggregators make the destination less important, and with the same syndicated news often being published verbatim across news sites, the trend is for the distinction to lessen even further.

Whereas in the IrishNews.com‘s experience, a site that previously received millions of hits in traffic prior to their paywall going up, I recently spoke to a marketing consultant who was doing some work for them at the time they introduced a paywall. A standard, if polished, regional news title – and one which has the added ‘benefit’ of attracting the loyalty of a particular political tribe in NI – their attempts to monetise this loyalty online has met minimal success.

In the presence of the choice luxury that the web offers, consumers are unwilling to pay for what is an inherently commoditised product. Nor do Rupert Murdoch-inspired ideas that “things can’t stay free forever” wash particular well, with the permanence of the BBC and other state broadcasters offerings.

With Murdoch forcing the issue though, it remains to be seen whether newspapers will differentiate themselves in time for consumers to give paywalls a chance. If they don’t they will have sped up – not slowed down – their rate of attrition.

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