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More U.S. Publishers to try for subscriptions

 1:16 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

NEW YORK (Reuters) - More U.S. publishers likely will try to wean readers off free Internet versions of their newspapers by starting to charge online subscription fees, a Dow Jones & Co. Inc. executive said on Tuesday.


This is interesting to hear that publishers believe they can get some pay-back.

If a service has a value I don't see any reason why it shouldn't charge a subscription.


Visit Thailand

 1:20 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

Problem is there is so much information available for free. I have not purchased a newspaper for years. Follow BBC World, CNN, Google News etc.

I think publishers who are considering this have to have a very strong model in place and offer things that their subscribers cannot get (at least easily or at all) for free elsewhere.


 1:46 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm inclined to agree with you however, a lot of the material that is generated actually originates from some of the type of organisations suggested. The "free sources" are often fed from that news.

I'm not solely speaking of news releases, but of "informed comment."

Syndication of free feeds will continue, but the jucier stories and informed comment will come via subscription.

I support the concept.


 4:59 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

I got a phone call the other day from one well-known newspaper wanting me to subscribe. When I mentioned that what little news I care to read comes from online sources, they informed that the Internet only contains about 10% of the news. I have no idea how this can be true, but I thought it was an interesting sales ploy.


 6:12 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

Well right now online newspapers make up the bulk of their revenue in classified ads. If they close up they could potentially be losing a considerable amount of traffic there. (unless this is in their "free" section.)

I can see a market for specialised news sources by subscription. For example there is a military news service which contains stories you really aren't going to find anywhere else.

The WSJ has been successful with using online subscriptions for years. Several online business magazines require a subscription to view their full articles. On the flip side Wired offers much of their magazine content online for free (time delayed.) This actually caused me to subscribe to their magazine.

Bottom line, I think subscription based news can work for some but for many ad-based revenue can do far better.

Will I pay for a general online newspaper subscription? No. A specialised niche news source? Yes.


 6:50 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

Less content in the engines to compete against if they don't come up with a search strategy and are locking up everything?


 7:50 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

Less content in the engines to compete against if they don't come up with a search strategy and are locking up everything?

Don't worry - there'll still be plenty of junk to compete against - the internet is a mess!


 7:53 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

I, for similar reasons, have not bought my local newspaper in over 5 years.

But wait. With the exception of the big national rags, local newspapers are local, and they reflect the concerns and curiosity of the community they serve. When my local city council decides to expnd a highway, or when there's a scandal in municipal overspending, that gets reported by local paper. CNN.com is great for reading about tsunamis, it doesn't report the daily activities of my community.

If local newspapers offer their content online with a subscription fee, people will subscribe to read about their local affairs. The end result might be a de-globalization of small papers to cover only the local events and concerns of a particular community.

For global and national news, CNN and other big players should continue to give it away for free. The advertising revenue justifies their effort. Local news agencies do not have readership in the kajillions, so a reasonable subscription fee would be appropriate.


 8:01 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

There are too many free versions out there for me to consider paying to access a newspaper online. The BBC and Google News can soon show up a lot of stories for free.

I hear that the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times (UK) do well out of online subscriptions though.


 8:09 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)


The way i see it they would need to entice readers by offering more, get the users interactive and more involved I dont know of any other ways to get people to pay for news online.

I owuld think they need to keep some stories free to attract new customers.

What ways do you think they could use to entice more paying readers?


 9:34 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

I wouldn't blame them from charging a subscription, but I agree with Visit Thailand:
I think publishers who are considering this have to have a very strong model in place and offer things that their subscribers cannot get (at least easily or at all) for free elsewhere.

In fact, one of the local newspapers in my city does exactly this. I'd say maybe 80% of their content is free, but certain things you have to subscribe for - a few popular columnists come to mind.

Personally, I'd never pay for it. I'll read news online where it's free, and pay for the print version of the newspaper so I can lounge back on the couch and enjoy - away from my computer;)


 9:55 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

The well known bad news within the newspaper industry is that today, in general, publishers should only expect to get somewhere around 1% to 4% of their paid print circulation in online subscribers.

The not so well known good news is that those that subscribe to online versions of newspapers are not that consirned about price. Many publisher try low prices to increase their online subscribers but that won't help increase the numbers much if at all.

We recommend that our newspaper publishers charge their "out-of-town" rate for the print edition for the online edition and 25% more than the print edition for a combo of print and online. We even recommend that free newspapers charge for the online edition.

We find that locals are willing to pay the out-of-town rate, we believe, because they just want their news online and that's all that counts.

Several people have mentioned in this thread that news websites that provide national and/or international news that is readily available available elsewhere shouldn't expect much luck with online subscriptions. We believe this is very true. Those with unique content will have the most success.


 10:15 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

it does suck for them but I don't see this going anywhere. Here's a free* idea: Google News does iTunes did, provide all the news (full stories) for a monthly fee and then pays the newspapers a certain amount. There's no way enough people will pay $5 to Nytimes, $5 to Wash Post, $5 to Usa Today etc. etc, but one could pay let's say $10 a month to read stories from about 200 papers.

* if google uses this idea, I want #1 spot (for my site) for at least six months :)


 10:59 pm on Mar 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

Communitynews has it right.

Publishers have got to do something because online is seriously hurting their print. Part of the thinking is that, well, heck if I'm going to subscribe, I'll get the print. (At least some will do that.)

I have a paper with a web site. We only put a couple of article on web so as to drive the classified traffic. Otherwise, people have to get the paper.

This report was released by Borrell Associates today.

Newspapers, TV and radio station Web sites experienced strong revenue growth in 2004 as they held onto half of all locally spent online advertising. Newspapers remained the leader, generating nearly $1.2 billion from their sites. TV sites saw nearly 60% revenue growth at $119 million, and radio stations suddenly awakened to the opportunity in 2004, nearly doubling their Internet ad revenues at $44 million. This 38-page report details the results of our annual local online advertising survey. This year’s survey included 2,177 sites operated by newspapers, TV stations, radio stations and local pure-play companies.

Now, you can sorta turn that on its head: How many of those dollars would have gone to the paper anyway? If you look at the data, a lot (over 40 percent) of the local ad traffic is done with pure web plays.

I'm all for subscriptions. Do it!


 12:38 am on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

Here's another piece of information print publishers with online editions should know: the big papers get paid for their news archives by the large databases like lexus/nexus. They get paid MORE if they don't give their archives away on the web.

Why is this important? I believe it is because of this fact that the large papers decided to give away fresh news and charge for archives.

Smaller papers don't get paid by large databases so it doesn't make sense to follow that model, but many did anyway.

Our newspapers charge for "fresh news" and give away the archives. This has the following advantages:

1. Protects newsstand sales and print subscriptions - if someone wants to read current news they have to pay one way or another;

2. Archives attract people using search engines that are looking for information on the topics covered by the paper. If the archives were protected for subscribers only the search engines wouldn't normally be indexing them;

3. It turns out that very little traffic is lost in this model, so advertisers don't loose any benefit when the model is implemented. Our archives have the "current" ads not the ads that ran with the orginal story;

4. News has its highest value when it is "new", so that is what should be charged for;

5. If someone wants the "news" for free, all they have to do is wait until it is no longer fresh and it becomes available to all.

This won't work for papers that cover topics covered by others that have websites totally open to the public because people will simply use the free sites.


 3:04 am on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

Walkman: Hey, that was my idea first :p You can have position #2. A system like the AdultCheck system for porn should work well for news. In fact we went round our region's local newspapers with this idea about two years ago (a bit too early perhaps):

From my previous comment from the AFP/Google copyright thread:

This could be the beginning of the end for free-to-read news sites. The news agencies are beginning to see that the free distribution of their content is eroding their core business, in the same way that it happened to music. As the owners of original content the news agencies have a lot of power and are in some ways similar to the record companies/RIAA.
It is not a big step for Reuters/AP/AFP etc to forbid their news feeds from being published for free by their newspaper/news-site clients. In effect they can say that they will only supply to sites that charge subscriptions. That could be the excuse that news sites need to go to the subscription model, which is what they all want to do anyway.
There was some talk of a Paypal toolbar before. Combine a payment system (GooglePay?) with Google News and the Google Toolbar and you get a subscription gateway/payment system for online news.


 3:42 am on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

From the current American Journalism Review:

"What if I told you that you could have a six-month subscription free?" he asked them.

"In one session after another, I don't think I saw one person who would take it," says a Post staffer who watched the focus groups with colleagues from behind a one-way glass. The participants picked up various sections--Style, Metro--and stared at them like they were "Egyptian hieroglyphics."

They knew about the Post, of course. How could they not? It's the region's dominant daily and one of the nation's best. They even liked the Post. But they read it online at work. Former subscribers complained unread papers piled up at their homes, making them feel guilty because they hadn't read them. The responses were not " 'No, I don't like the Post,'" the staffer says. They were " 'No, I don't want that hulking thing in my house.'"

Communitynews: That's really interesting what you are doing. I don't think I've read of this being done. (Yet another reason why visit this web site.)


 8:41 am on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

There is money in subscriptions. The Irish Times, one of the first newspapers on the internet and one of the most widely used is now all subscriptions. Initially, ex-pat Irish were against it and wouldn't pay on principal. I believe now (from a good source) that a lot of those poeple have now relented and are stumping up the 79 euros.

The BBC, which used to allow me to watch the video of the 1:30, 6 and late news now will not let me watch it if I am outside the UK. I have to pay to watch outside the UK.

My local Scottish newspaper (The Scotsman) has started sending me numerous surveys to help them help me. I complete them all, and it looks like they are getting ready to help themselves to money from me somewhere down the line. If I am outside of Scotland (which is a lot of the time), I will stump up for that as well because I have given myself the bad habit of visiting the sites every day.

CNN makes you pay to watch all videos on their site.

Subscription is coming, it's almost inevitable IMHO.


 2:11 pm on Mar 31, 2005 (gmt 0)

The replies re: "I'll just go to a free news source" are rather funny.

What about when the time comes that every newspaper charges for content? Where will you go then?

It is hard to say which subscription model will ultimately prevail. I've been an online Wall Street Journal subscriber for several years now. It is a bargain compared to the print subscription. Then there is the Slate model. I actually don't mind the 30 second commercial that I have to sit through for a 1 day pass.


 12:50 pm on Apr 1, 2005 (gmt 0)

My own site is preparing to launch a subscription model as well.

We are a news service - but focused on a specific industry - so quite niche (there are only a few decent competitors).

Our model will differ slightly in that the incentive will be to get the same content as the free version, but without the adverts that clutter up the page.

We will then also add exclusive stories a little later.

I aim to convert about 5% of the base into paying subscribers, which I feel is a viable return based on the loyalty and stickyness of the site.

The addition of "subscriber only" news articles in the future will also reward subscribers while also acting as "free" advertising for the subscription option.


 2:48 pm on Apr 1, 2005 (gmt 0)

"The replies re: "I'll just go to a free news source" are rather funny. "

what so funny about it? Why pay when you can get something for free? When they charge, then we'll adjust to it

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