Readers have never paid for newspaper content

I’ve been aware of this for a while — there are people out there who believe that newspapers made a mistake by giving away content online. “Gee, if only we hadn’t done that, we would be better off today,” goes this bit of magical thinking.

Here’s the latest, via Romenesko:

“I am very concerned that many other publishers with high-quality news brands have devalued their brands by trying to charge in one medium (print) while giving away access to brands and content in another medium (online),” he says. “But I understand that it’s very hard to change strategies.”

The Wall Street Journal can get away with charging for content online because it’s very specialized content, specialized to an audience that has either personal disposable income or corporate credit cards. Few other publishers can match that combo.

For the rest of us, we must deal with the reality of two perceptions by readers. One is that the price of a newspaper subscription is really to cover the cost of the service of delivery. They aren’t really paying for the content of the paper, but the pulp and delivery itself. And second is that on the web, the reader pays for deliver via paying for all his own equipment and net connection, while the practical cost of delivery for the publisher is near nil. Readers expect advertisers to actually pay for content creation, and if we can’t sell enough advertising, well that’s just our problem, not theirs.

We devalued quality content with the penny press, and low subscription fees for the past 100 plus years has only fueled the perception that content isn’t worth paying for. It isn’t just a web thing.

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5 thoughts on “Readers have never paid for newspaper content

  1. I don’t get it. A journalist gets paid to create words. His/Her words are content. It’s a content-driven product. The private publisher gets potentially wealthy off advertiser dollars spun around content… contentcontentcontent. I would love to get paid to write my blog. For money, yeah, I would say, “I get paid to blog/write”. And those words are the content of my blog.

    Anyways, just politely disagreeing.

  2. Words are a dime a dozen. It takes a very special writer to spin words into such a fine fabric that they have economic value. Information is much the same way. It’s rare information that has real economic value.

    But the real issue for newspapers is what readers have been trained to expect. They have not been trained to believe they are paying for the content, only the delivery.

  3. Some of my print coworkers were arguing the other day that we should start charging subscriptions for our Web site in order to try to alleviate declining profits. I was arguing opposite…I said no one will pay since they’re so used to getting it for free. Plus the profit from subscriptions is pretty much nothing compared to advertising.

    This post makes a good point, and if I ever find myself in this argument again, I think I’m going to steal your ideas. :-)

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