Since the advent of wide-spread broadband access, newspaper profits have been plummeting at unprecedented rates as people move online for their daily news and classifieds. What we are beginning to see now is that the online business models of many of these large media organisations are also unsustainable – forcing many of them to think of ways to further monetise their businesses. Without such moves, we could see a widespread collapse of various aspects of the news media industry – and there is growing debate in the United States about the possibilities of bail-outs.
The answer they say, with Rupert Murdoch leading the charge, is to move to a pay-for-access model; however, it seems that the general internet audience won’t have anything of it. In a recent poll commissioned by Harris Interactive it was found that of the 1,188 online UK residents surveyed, only 5% of respondents said that they were happy to ‘pay to continue reading’ – with 74% saying that they would just ‘find another free site’.
What is more interesting about this poll, is that the 5% average actually doesn’t stack up over different age demographics; with 13% of the 16 – 24 year old bracket indicating positively, but only 1% of the 35 – 44. It seemed to show that those with the highest average incomes were far less likely to pay for online news, although this may also be an indication of preference for traditional print media in the advent of a pay-for-access model.
The study brings up some interesting issues that are surely terrifying many large media organisations that are finding it difficult to adjust to the new channels in information flow that the digital revolution is bringing with it. It also highlights the possible growing responsibility that bloggers and other forms of citizen journalism might play in the very near future. As individuals move away from corporate online news providers to free alternatives, we may just see another boom in the incredible growth of blog readership.
This is certainly a field of activity that we should pay close attention to, as the results could literally change the way that we use the internet and the practicalities of doing so. Of the different pay-for-access models, it seems that those that call for subscription (rather than micro-payment) fees could be more successful and more readily accepted by general users. There are also the very real and very obvious issues surrounding just what kind of premium content is going to be served.
You cannot monetise what is already easily and openly available, at least – I believe – not successfully. The simple fact is that the majority of corporate news site content is easily created or duplicated by citizen journalists and other free outlets. Anything that is fact based cannot be protected behind a pay-for-access wall, because all that needs to happen is for a few free websites to have accounts and then disseminate the information through their own synthesis of the facts.
Indeed, it seems that the biggest challenge to face corporate news providers will be in the need to vastly increase the quality of their original content and to delve into new areas and mediums. Written material of the general ‘news story’ kind just won’t cut it, at the very least such content will have to consist primarily of video reports. Editorial commentary and other hard to replicate material will also need to be greatly increased to make people feel like they are getting good value from their payment. Industry experts in various fields will be highly sought after to create content worthy of the title ‘premium’.
In the end, this could become a very positive influence on the output of corporate news providers as they will be competing with each other even more than they already do in the need to provide premium content. The consumers, if the business model is reasonable and widely accepted, could actually end up benefiting greatly from this move.
Of course, the downside brings the possibility of more corporate control over the spread of internet news. Copyright will undoubtedly be very stringently chased, compartmentalisation of the internet is a possible result of corporations looking after their bottom line.
It’s difficult to guess just where this will end up in the long term, however one thing is certain: if current profit trends of online news media continue the way they have been going a definite and clear shift in business models will occur within the next few years. Something worth keeping an eye on for sure…