Publishers Split on Paid Online News Content Debate

I hate paying for online news content. It’s not that I don’t value reporting, it’s that I can get the scoop on what’s going on from a lot of different free news sources these days. Unless you’re the only source of the particular topic I’m interested in, the content has little monetary value to me. Then again, I have paid to access articles online in recent months, and I’ll probably do it again. Usually it’s for the convenience of instant access, rather than for the content itself. So I’m really 50/50 on whether or not I think paid content will work.

As usual, I’m not alone. Publishers are just as split as I am on the topic of whether or not we’ll pay to read online news content. On one side of the fence, you’ve got Murdoch trying to charge for everything he possibly can. On the other side, you’ve got the innovative publishers that know there’s far more value in community and openness than charging for content itself. According to a recent study by the American Press Institute, reported in Media Buyer/Planner, 51% of publishers say they believe they can successfully charge for content, while 49% aren’t sure or believe paying for content will NOT Work.

This surprises me. I would have thought most newspaper publishers would lean towards charging for online content if asked. I think this is encouraging data that indicates a lot of forward-thinking publishers out there. I can’t help but wonder if all the negativity around Murdoch’s moves to charge for this and that are doing more harm than good in getting publishers on board the pay-to-play train?

Another interesting tidbit from the story found that 68% of publishers believe even if readers object to paying for content, they would have a difficult time finding that information in other places, while 52% said they thought it would be very or somewhat easy to do so. Said another way, 68% are in denial and 52% have accepted reality.

Of course, even with the divide as close as it is, 58% of publishers are considering charging for content, yet only 12% plan to charge for content by the end of the year. I was surprised to see that only 38% will limit full access to stories to monthly subscribers, since many of my favorite outlets have already made this move (I’ll pick on PRWeek again for this point).

Regardless of what side of the split you find yourself on, it’s pretty clear that publishers are going to find a way to charge if they can. At the same time, many of us will pay for online content if given no other choice. It’s that simple. It will be interesting to see if newspaper publishers remain split on this topic, or if companies like Journalism Online or people like Murdoch yelling “charge” will get more publishers to look for new ways to charge for free stuff.

For more information on the MediaBuyerPlanner survey, please click here.

What do you think? Who do you think will win in the long run – free, paid or someone in the middle ground? I hope you enjoyed reading this free post.

(Image Credit: Money! by yomanimus)

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.


  1. I have mixed feelings on this one, primarily because so many of my friends are employed as newspaper journalists. Writers are, as a rule, devalued with the level of pay they receive — and we creative types just accept it because we’re too dumb to realize that it’s a skill many people do not possess. If the publishers are willing to pass on these online revenues to their writers, I say, yes, pay the writers what they deserve for the quality of news they are delivering. But if this is an effort by publishers to money-grab (sadly, all too often the case) … it’s appalling. Unfortunately, my guess is that the writers will not see any benefit from the online fees. I would need the understanding of one with an MBA and the analytics of a business guru to see whether it is a just charge on the public at large. Since I lack both, I hope that the publishers will take into account that they would not have a product were it not for those with the gifts to report and write.

  2. I found the statistics you listed staggering. I had no idea online payments were so imminent. I just wanted to clarify 1 stat though…You said 51% of publishers BELIEVE they can successfully charge for content…and then “This surprises me. I would have thought most newspaper publishers would lean towards charging”.

    I bet 100% of publishers would like to charge for content just to stay solvent, but only 51% think its plausible. Do you agree?

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