Into the money-making tent

tents crop

Simon Jenkins thinks that newspapers need to get into the festival business if they’re to continue. Alright, he doesn’t really think that: he’s arguing that newspapers can charge readers for the privilege of belonging to a brand (and he seems to be speaking for a chunk of his newspaper’s policy, as Liberal Conspiracy reports that the Guardian is looking into some sort of freemium members club).

That’s one side of the extra value that could entice readers to pay for their news. The other side is convenience – and on the Monday Note blog, Frédéric Filloux gives a quick breakdown of why news on your phone could be a service worth paying for. Mobile is the perfect vehicle for the micropayments some proprietors are itching to charge, because users are accustomed to paying a monthly bill already: whatever tiny fee the newspaper settles on per issue, or per article, could be gently folded into the direct debit at no extra hassle to the reader.

It’s not clear yet what the Sunday Times is going to offer their customers in terms of either convenience or community when they begin their paywall experiment. And, as this Radio 4 profile on James Murdoch points out in passing, the current chief executive of News Corp doesn’t have a sterling background in online: “He’s reputed to have persuaded Rupert to invest in a number of internet ventures which resulted in significant financial losses.”

It’s not enough to just decide that people should pay: you have to convince them that they’re getting something superior for their money. When we know what the Sunday Times is planning on charging for, we’ll have a better idea of whether it’s worth it – but whatever they offer, it will surely have to be something better than their current website with a moat dug around it.

© Sarah Ditum, 2009. Photo by frozenchipmunk, used under Creative Commons.

FT’s Barber: the paywall dawns

false dawn by today is a good day(Photo by Today is a good day, used under Creative Commons)

Lionel Barber of the Financial Times has predicted that almost all news organisations will start charging for content within the next 12 months (reported by Journalism.co.uk). This sounds right, but sad – the interval between the expansion of news media online, and the realisation that free won’t pay for itself, has been a blissful window for information. Rather than buying one newspaper a day, I’ve had the option of reading all the stories that interest me as they’re reported across every publication, and while there will be ways to carry on doing this (probably for free) after the paywalls come in, it will be more fiddly and less appealing.

Barber said quality journalism would ‘wither’ if new revenue streams are not found.

“We should be under no illusions about the price we would pay as a result. It would not be measured in terms of jobs alone, but something more enduring and valuable,” he said.

“Journalism forms part of the lifeblood of free societies. Journalism is not perfect, nor was it ever meant to be. By its nature, it is often uncomfortable, especially for those in positions of power.  But it matters – and I will defend it to the last.”

Journalism.co.uk, “Almost all news organisations will charge online in 12 months, says FT’s Barber”

One unintended (although maybe not unwelcome, at least to an industry that routinely resists self-scrutiny) consequence will be that writing a blog which criticises reporting will become a bit harder. But if your hope is to see reporting improve, and if you accept that it can’t get better without revenue, then opposing paywalls is a tricky position to take.

© Sarah Ditum 2009