Monday, March 16, 2009

Charging for Online Content

Last Wednesday, I was reading "As Cities Go from Two Newspapers to One, Some Talk of Zero," a fascinating piece in The New York Times, when I was suddenly struck with a thought (probably not a new one): Why isn't the solution to the rash of newspaper closings painfully obvious to everyone? Consumers must pay for content on the internet to solve the newspaper revenue squeeze. At a minimum, this is a solution that needs to be tried.

For example, if you could get food free-of-charge by physically going to a supermarket vs. purchasing it online, where would you get it? There is no reason why the general public should be able to access any newspaper for free online. We now buy content by physically purchasing newspapers; why not buy content online as well? Although some major newspapers have tried to charge for online content at one time or another, I don’t think they ever committed to making this solution work for the long term. “The internet is for free” is a mindset that continues to gain traction.

The decline of newspapers may lead to the decline of the fourth estate, a pillar of American society which has challenged or brought down presidents, corporations, public officials and other leadership when they have not met ethical or legal standards. Can the same investigative reporting led by newspapers be transferred with the same dedication to the internet? The costs may be too great to bear for in-depth investigative journalism if content is free.

Producing content is labor intensive; newspapers grew and prospered here because consumers wanted to buy what newspapers offered. Subscription and newsstand revenues combined with advertising built the publishing business.

While newsstand revenues are irrelevant to online offerings, the online reach will make up for this revenue leg, if online content is charged for.
Finally, to date, no medium has put another out of business: print survived radio, radio survived TV and TV has thus far survived the internet.

Let the competition go forward, but let it be fair. And may the best man win!

Technorati Tags: The New York Times, newspapers, online content, internet, business, communications, public relations

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