Thursday, May 16, 2013

Should newspapers charge for online content?

Yes, if they're major national/international newspapers with high quality original content.

And if the pricing is appropriate to the online world rather than the old physical newspaper delivered to your doorstep world.

The Washington Post is planning to implement what's called a "paywall" this summer, and they've floated the idea of charging $180/year for online subscriptions, requiring them for readers who want to access more than 20 articles per month.

Here's what I wrote their ombudsman-equivalent:

There are 2 ways of looking at a paywall: improving the newspaper's revenue & improving the reader's experience.

1. Improving the newspaper's revenue

Looks like the Washington Post is thinking of pricing access compared to getting home delivery--hence the idea floated by WaPo of charging $180/year. However, most of the WaPo's potential online subscribers are not considering this as an alternative to home delivery--we're all over the country & already have local newspapers.

We are not going to pay $180/year for just the national content of the WaPo. I doubt most of us would pay more than a tenth of that. I predict the WaPo will wind up stepping over dollars to pick up nickels if it pursues such an ill-considered pricing policy. It will make far, far more money off cheap per-user pricing than by limiting its online active readership to a relative handful of affluent local subscribers.

At the very least you should consider a low price for potential subscribers who live outside the physical newspaper's distribution area, & therefore have no need or use for its local content.

Another group excluded by high pricing is retired people living on a fixed income.

2. Improving the reader's experience

News/opinion consumption has become an interactive phenomenon. Readers want to have their say, and so the comment threads of articles have become significant in a way that old-school newspapermen might not realize.

The problem is that the comment threads on topics that affect corporate profits or major political advantage have been rendered useless because they're infested by paid shills using persona management software, with one shill having up to 70 online identities. These shills would not have to pay a subscription fee because they could just manipulate their identities. You can read about it here:

Find a solution that blocks astroturfers or pricing becomes irrelevant.

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