Page last updated at: Thu, 26 May 2011 14:08 PM BST Printable version

Will news be free forever?

by Ellinor Thunberg

The SunA year has passed since The Times and Sunday Times started charging for online content. The pioneering model, which has visitors pay for access to the two Murdoch papers, is much debated in the industry.

News International head of marketing, Katie Vanneck-Smith, said at a City University London debate earlier this month that she is satisfied with the model.

She said: “I see a long-term trend that fills me with excitement. Consumers are willing to pay for [content].

“We released our last figures in February this year and announced that we had 79,000 subscribers. In the context of paid-for sales, The Times is now in growth, in terms of people who are paying for our content.”

The next step in the bid to get newspaper consumers to purchase content online was the News of the World paywall that launched last October. Vanneck-Smith confirms The Sun will follow soon, but no date is set.

The New York Times announced its new pay model in March this year, with a wall that makes you pay after reading 20 free articles. In March, the Wolverhampton-based Express and Star launched a premium version, but breaking news is kept for free.

Free publisher

Subscriptions are not the only way to go, though. The Guardian operates their online business without a paywall, and they too are positive about the future of their journalism.

Media editor, Dan Sabbagh, said: “The opportunity for us by staying a free publisher is enormous, and it is very exciting. We had our best ever day, when Osama Bin Laden died, with 4.5 million people visiting The Guardian on that day.”

One of the current projects that Sabbagh is involved in at The Guardian is to open up to independent writers, to be not only a content provider but also a content aggregator. He said that the response has been promising so far, with 200 immediate requests from people wishing to collaborate.

Social media

Sabbagh, at the debate hosted by Press Gazette, also talked about the importance of social media and user-interaction.

“We think it’s critical to be part of the conversation that people are part of,” he said. “The Times and Sunday Times journalism is outside of journalistic conversation, you can’t link to it from Twitter. You can’t get a taste of the content, without having to register and pay.”

However, Vanneck-Smith doesn’t agree that they are missing out on the important social media buzz, and brings up the Rich List as an example of people tweeting and blogging. As far as interaction goes, the readers that do subscribe online are, according to her, up to three times more engaged in commenting.

Sabbagh said: “The world is big enough for a variety of models, and we’ll see how this plays out.”

Give-away model

The Evening Standard was in a downward spiral of loss and decided to take the give-away approach. By doing so they increased their circulation enormously – from selling 700 copies a day at Oxford Circus tube station to distributing 32,000 copies daily at the same station.

“We believe we’ve been lucky with this model. People thought at times that we were a bit insane,” said editor Geordie Grieg. He added that they are hoping to be profitable by 2012.


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