At first glance, the New York Times’ recent decision to go behind a “paywall”, following News Corp’s London Times’ move to a paid subscription model last year, seems short-sighted.
While they use slightly different models, essentially they both charge a few dollars per month to access their websites, though readers can access 20 New York Times articles a month before having to pay for a subscription.
I have always been sceptical about charging for online news for a number of reasons.
Firstly, are people willing to pay for what they have become accustomed to getting free? While the jury is still out on this, the online readership of the London Times dropped dramatically after erecting a paywall last year.
Similarly the New York Times’ website has seen a drop in traffic since it began charging for content.
The second problem I have with charging for online news is that almost all news organisations generate almost all of their revenue from advertising.
For most newspapers, the cover charge barely covers the printing and distribution costs of the paper.
It seems foolish to diminish your readership numbers, harming your primary revenue stream, advertising, to make a bit of money per subscriber.
In my opinion, the extra revenue generated by moving to a paid model, while welcome, is not the main advantage of charging for subscriptions.
What the paid model offers news organisations is a way to “capture” their regular readers and keep them on their site for longer.
If you have paid for a subscription to a news website, you are less likely to browse other news sites.
Modern marketing and advertising is becoming less about the number of people you reach with your message and more about delivering the message to the “right” type of people.
By moving to a paid model, news websites can tell advertisers that although the total number of readers may have dropped, those that remain are more likely to have higher incomes and spend more time looking at the website and consequently, the advertising.
What do you think, are you willing to pay for news online?