Politics & Media
Mar 05, 2009, 07:25AM

Pay to play

A strong argument for partly charging for online news. The key: a strong brand and deep institutional knowledge.

Here it is:

The lesson here is not that free content trumps pay (though, all things being equal, it will) but that there has to be much more to a pay strategy than a publisher’s desire to want to be paid. This goes double when the publisher has been giving his valuable content away for free for the better part of two decades, as most newspapers have done.

The trick to charging for content, therefore, is coming up with unique and valuable information that people will pay for. The converse is to let information be free that ought to be free. Things, for example, like the life-threatening commnity emergency in Santa Barbara.

What are some good ideas for paid content? Here are a few for free:

The Financial Times this month is launching “China Confidential,” a fortnightly digital newsletter and website promising “premium, exclusive analysis and predictions on investment themes.” Its slogan, which could be the mantra for many pay-content initiatives, is “Premium Investment Intelligence.”

The New York Times could have done the same thing as the FT if it added a bit of original reporting and some exclusive features the new environment section it launched last week. At the moment, the section merely repackages stories previously printed in the paper. But there is a world of po$$ibility in the Green Inc. blog aiming to deliver insights on “energy, the environment and the bottom line.”

  • I don't think this is a strong argument at all. Sure, some readers might pay a small amount for special environmental or "inside" sports information, but the revenue will be just a drop in the bucket. The Wall Street Journal's an exception, probably because they started a firewall and never deviated from it, unlike the Times or, many years ago, Slate. Once people have read for free they won't pay. I won't; if it means missing a special investigation series that I might've have read--might've the key word--in print a decade ago, so be it. If the story or stories are truly groundbreaking, they'll be picked up elsewhere.

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