Would you pay for a newspaper website subscription?

10 July 2009

You get to read Bitterwallet for free and yes, you're very welcome. In fact you can read any high quality news source online for nothing, but that may not be the case for much longer.

The daily rags are currently getting turned over by the bull-necked stooges that are the recession and the internet. The recession isn't something the newspaper industry could easily dodge; the same can't be said for the internet. Many failed to conceive that online could ever replace print; even just a few years ago, an exec at the Daily Mail famously stated the internet would never be a place for breaking news. Newspapers have been slow to embrace new technology, and many still refuse to publish content online and choose to sit on stories until they appear in print.

Websites are stripping the industry of every selling point and cash cow they have. Want classifieds? There's Craigslist. Breaking news? Try Twitter. Photos? Got Flickr. Comment and opinion? Millions of blogs. Recruitment? Take your pick. And the effects are savage; UK newspaper revenues started declining rapidly last Summer while the US industry has been on the skids since 2006, as a graph that wouldn't look out-of-place in a business-based sitcom clearly demonstrates:

The recession can be blamed in part, but revenue was falling long before it began. So what are newspapers to do about it? One judge in the US has suggested banning hyperlinks, while the New York Times is considering making online content available only to subscribers.

The plan is to charge subscribers to the paper edition $30 a year for online access, and non-subscribers $60 a year. If the decision is approved, it wouldn't be the first time the NYT has attempted it; in 2007, 200,000 subscribers paid for access to archives and columnists but the revenues were considered too small to be worthwhile.

The difficulty in making online subscriptions work is that sites need to either serve a specialist audience or have strong brand loyalty. In this instance, online readers will simply go elsewhere for generic news and events coverage. But the New York Times is a respected brand, and execs will be hoping they can persuade a reasonable percentage of the millions of online users that $5 is a fair price. Memo to NYT execs: after years of providing all that stuff for free, they probably won't think it is.

So far there no UK broadsheets and tabloids have announced similar plans, but since they're fresh out of all other ideas, expect somebody to try charging you for their news in the not too-distant future.


  • The B.
    How about they stop doing the lossmaking "free with you Sunday paper this Sunday - Straw Dogs on DVD! See Susan George in the nuddy getting a proper seeing too!". They lose about £3 a pop on those giveaways and for what? A 10% increase in circulation for 1 day? How pointless is that?
  • Ian
    What people buy newspapers for, especially me, is for opinion. If the subscription gave access to unique content, analysis and opinion on news matters then I'd probably tempted to pay an annual membership. I get my news from the BBC website, but the articles are very small, and have no opinion. There is certainly room in the market I reckon.
  • chrisg.
    "business based sitcom" actually raised a smile :)
  • MadBob
    As I haven't bought a Newspaper for over 20 years, because they print crap and lies. I would sooner walk around Manchester with a nail in my shoe than pay to read the same creap online. When will people realise they are not News papers but media entertainment magazines with no truth and little substance. roll on the death of the [sarcasm]free[/sarcasm] press.
  • andy y.
    I,m conflicted ...most of uk press is hack bullshit and lies.But now and again the print press gets to the truth.eg telegraph breaks MP expenses. investigative journalism is expensive to produce,regurgitating pr press releases as news is cheap,celebrity bs supplied by max clifford is cheap,tits are cheap. no easy answer
  • Matt S.
    I suppose the problem is that with a big story like MP expenses as a recent one, the paper wants to get it out to as wide an audience as possible as quickly as possible to help raise brand awareness that they were the guys who got the goods. so they don't wanna be charging for _that_exclusive content. when then means all you're really paying your subscription fee for is the other rubbish.
  • Matt S.
    I think they should find some way to combine the two. like print a unique coupon code in each day's paper that gets you free access to breaking stories on the website for the rest of the day. Obviously the code would get shared around all over the internet but it would still encourage some people to buy the paper, and regular readers of the paper would be made aware that there might be new information available by now on their computer. heck just short urls for each story would be handy.
  • Inactive
    The last believable Newspaper that I bought was the Beano.
  • throbbing m.
    How about they stop doing the lossmaking “free with you Sunday paper this Sunday - Straw Dogs on DVD! See Susan George in the nuddy getting a proper seeing too!”. They lose about £3 a pop on those giveaways and for what? A 10% increase in circulation for 1 day? How pointless is that?
  • Tom P.
    Death Watch Birmingham Post "The Birmingham Post might cease daily public-ation after 152 years, becoming the first flagship newspaper of a large city to go weekly" http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f20bcb22-6d7b-11de-8b19-00144feabdc0.html?nclick_check=1 The FT charges to read ALL of it's content (some bits are free)
  • Bullet
    Funnies and Crosswords during my meal breaks at work is the only reason i buy a paper and for the bog aswell, not that I use it for the bog just to read.
  • Junkyard
    Believable? No way could Billy Whizz run that fast.
  • Kevin
    If you look at all the free papers you get in London it's not a surprise we don't bother reading papers. One night on the way back to Kings Cross I had the Evening Standard given to me free at Leicester Square station, got to Euston and they were selling it for 10p. A few minutes on BBC News (which we already pay for) gives me more information than any of the tabloids in the morning. I think I might pay a sub for some papers but tabloids? No way, wheres the value in that?
  • dude
    No fuckin way would I pay for what is essentially incredibly biased information.
  • Michael
    We're too used to getting information for free. Not just online, but in print as well. The Metro has given much of the traditional media a bloody nose as have, I suspect, the various free London Papers.
  • Ben
    Being a journalist, I appreciate the financial side of the argument. However, for people complaining about tabloids being rubbish and full of stuff which isn't newsworthy - just don't read them then. Anyone picking up a redtop does so in the knowledge that they're reading for entertainment rather than serious (and often more reliable) news. Yes, maybe in days gone by they were of a higher quality and didn't pander to the celebrity obsession so much, but it is not their fault they have had to change, it is ours. The people are the ones that have become obsessed with celebrity culture, not the newspapers. The fact is that if a significant majority of the population gradually became obsessed with the process of brick laying, then soon enough we would see the emergence of a newspaper institution dominated by stories about brick laying. As for the subscription debate, there are very few ways it could work. Newspaper sales may be declining rapidly, but they are still there, they won't die out for a while yet. However, when they inevitably do, and all we are left with is the contemporary method of free online publications, we will realise what a mistake we have made. There is nothing that can replace the tangible feeling of reading a newspaper and the fact remains that online sites will always lack the heritage, values and even reliability of a newspaper (people may complain about them being untruthful, but the fact remains that the internet can [and has] spread lies and rumours faster, more severely and easily than newspapers). There is nothing we can do to prevent this though. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it won't save our beloved publications. Now, back to work. Ah the wonders of a slow news day.
  • Bitterwallet B.
    [...] This isn’t anything new; the NYT attempted it in 2007 – 200,000 subscribers paid for access to archives and columnists but the revenues were considered too small to be worthwhile. The two newspapers that have successfully operated pay-walls for years are the FT and the Wall Street Journal, but these provide specialist content for a readership that can actively profit from the news and information available. The Times, on the other hand, is a more generic offering providing the sort of content that is available in plenty of other outlets. [...]
  • Urany
    can you reupload to hotfile plz
  • Copyright B.
    [...] government dreams up new ways to punish unlawful downloading and the traditional dead tree media crumbles to dust. Now adding to the fracas is the House of Lords, in a move which would see search engines exempt [...]
  • Luigi F.
    I don
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