Why paying for online content is OK

The New York Times’ announcement yesterday that it will start charging for content in 2011 draws strong reactions from many folks.  Some say they’ll never pay for online content.  Others support the decision.  I have to admit that I fall into the latter category mostly because of how the New York Times has set up its payment structure.

The newspaper plans to allow general users access to a certain amount of articles each month and then charge a flat fee for unlimited access thereafter.  Subscribers will have completely free online content.  The New York Times continues to by mum about how many articles will be free.  As long as it’s a reasonable amount, then I agree with their choice.  The new format is designed to still be free for casual users and only charge those who really do read the entire newspaper for free.

Honestly, that makes sense to me.  Newspapers are a business.  Real-life journalists don’t work for free.  I certainly don’t.

Other newspaper, however, are struggling with what to do to make up for revenue lost to their online versions.  My local newspaper, for example, has started running one “enticing” article a day that it only teases on its Web site.  For the entire article, readers must purchase a hard copy of the paper.  Mostly, I find this annoying.  I like the New York Times idea in that it doesn’t make me get up and go somewhere to get the article.  I’d rather see my local newspaper charge a small fee online and have all content available there.

Media outlets continue to navigate the Internet waters and figure out how to use the Internet to boost sales and interest while not running themselves out of business by providing all free content.  As one of the largest newspapers in the country, this decision by the New York Times will most likely have repercussions throughout the country.  Smaller newspapers may mimic the model.  And, I have to say, I think it is one that will work.

Hats off to the New York Times!

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  1. Chris wrote:

    Mark me in the column: “Do Not Like!”
    I totally disagree with this approach. Say you get 10 free articles a month… Does that count reading the same article more than once? Does that count against you? Will only “non important” articles be free? Maybe headlines won’t be. Maybe the only free articles will be the Associated Press ones. I guess we can only speculate until they release actual details, which being the New York Times they should have known to wait and post full details first to squelch negative public opinion on conjecture.
    Here’s what they should have done, as it’s an already proven means that works. They should have filled up the online edition of the NYT with Ads. And offer a subscription to remove those ads. This does several things; 1. They get their revenue even from those reading but not subscribing. 2. The die-hard readers will subscribe to get rid of the ads. They still get their revenue then. 3. Those that just want to read a specific article can do so without subscribing and without fear that they’ve “used up” their allotment of articles for the month. All they have to do is put up with a lot of ads on the page.
    This method is proven and more importantly keeps opinions positive about the paper. People are more likely to sympathize with the paper’s need for revenue when they don’t feel like the paper is deliberately withholding content from them.