Major news organizations calculate cost of charging readers for online content

Marketers have yet to - and may never - return en masse to pre-recession print advertising levels. And online advertising has failed to become the publishing industry's white knight by making up that difference.

In the news
Marketers have yet to – and may never – return en masse to pre-recession print advertising levels. And online advertising has failed to become the publishing industry's white knight by making up that difference.

Those are two reasons why major media companies, such as The New York Times Co. and News Corp., are publicly floating the concept of charging readers to use their Web sites. Recently, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch said his company will charge for content on all of its news sites. Meanwhile, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber predicts that nearly all news portals will demand payment within a year. The New York Times has also reportedly queried readers about their willingness to pay for Web news.

Why does it matter?
As more outlets charge, the media landscape will change because content will be read by fewer consumers, but also by a more targeted and interested audience, says Michele Clarke, MD at Brainerd Communicators.

“I think it's good news,” she says. “What you have is a system that is starting to mimic the old trade press system, and that was built on qualified subscribers. What you have is a set of paid subscribers made up of those who are more engaged.”

Clarke adds that although fewer people may read sub-scriber-only content, those readers will be more likely to act on its messages.

“Getting a story covered is a means to an end,” she says. “The real goal is to get the reader to take some action or to adapt a new belief.”

Three facts:
1. News Corp. has reportedly met with other publishers about launching a consortium that would charge for online and mobile content

2. Well-known outlets, such as The New York Times and Slate.com, have tried payment services, only to eventually free their content

3. The Wall Street Journal's managing editor Robert Thomson has predicted his newspaper will use “micropayments,” charging customers per story

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