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Publishers Split on Paid Online News Content Debate

I hate paying for online news content. It’s not that I don’t value reporting, it’s that I can get the scoop on what’s going on from a lot of different free news sources these days. Unless you’re the only source of the particular topic I’m interested in, the content has little monetary value to me. Then again, I have paid to access articles online in recent months, and I’ll probably do it again. Usually, it’s for the convenience of instant access, rather than for the content itself. So I’m really 50/50 on whether or not I think paid content will work.

As usual, I’m not alone. Publishers are just as split as I am on the topic of whether or not we’ll pay to read online news content. On one side of the fence, you’ve got Murdoch trying to charge for everything he possibly can. On the other side, you’ve got the innovative publishers that know there’s far more value in community and openness than charging for the content itself. According to a recent study by the American Press Institute, reported in Media Buyer/Planner, 51% of publishers say they believe they can successfully charge for content, while 49% aren’t sure or believe paying for content will NOT Work.

This surprises me. I would have thought most newspaper publishers would lean towards charging for online content if asked. I think this is encouraging data that indicates a lot of forward-thinking publishers out there. I can’t help but wonder if all the negativity around Murdoch’s moves to charge for this and that are doing more harm than good in getting publishers on board the pay-to-play train?

Another interesting tidbit from the story found that 68% of publishers believe even if readers object to paying for content, they would have a difficult time finding that information in other places, while 52% said they thought it would be very or somewhat easy to do so. Said another way, 68% are in denial and 52% have accepted reality.

Of course, even with the divide as close as it is, 58% of publishers are considering charging for content, yet only 12% plan to charge for content by the end of the year. I was surprised to see that only 38% will limit full access to stories to monthly subscribers since many of my favorite outlets have already made this move (I’ll pick on PRWeek again for this point).

Regardless of what side of the split you find yourself on, it’s pretty clear that publishers are going to find a way to charge if they can. At the same time, many of us will pay for online content if given no other choice. It’s that simple. It will be interesting to see if newspaper publishers remain split on this topic, or if companies like Journalism Online or people like Murdoch yelling “charge” will get more publishers to look for new ways to charge for free stuff.

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