Will Newspaper Readers Pay For Digital Content?

Valerie Everett

The newspaper industry has been struggling to figure out compensate for declining ad revenues and monetize its content online. Gannett just announced plans to slash between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs, mostly from its local papers. The money-losing Boston Globe, which is owned by the New York Times, today announced "Globe Reader" a new digital version of the newspaper. It's formatted to look like the print edition and can be read online or offline. For now it won't cost extra, but the preview edition will be available only to Globe subscribers. Will it keep subscribers or add new ones? We'll see.

The New York Times also announced that it will expand its digital content service, allowing other newspapers to post and update content even if it hasn't been published first in a print edition. The Times ended its "Times Select" subscriptions a few years ago and now it wants to make sure its generating as much revenue from digital rights as possible. The Times' main revenue source, advertising, continues to be weak. It seems the Gray Lady would be wise to experiment with online subscriptions to compensate for the fact that when it comes to ads, digital dimes are replacing analog dollars.

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The Wall Street Journal is the poster child for a successful subscription model online, and CEO Rupert Murdoch has said that the company plans to charge for its mobile applications, in time. So now it's trying to figure out whether readers will really pay. The WSJ.com is surveying iPhone users about whether or not they'll be willing to pay. Based on the wording of the question -- "If full access to Mobile Reader required a paid subscription, how likely would you be to subscribe?" -- it seems it's considering offering some mobile content for free, with the full library of content available only through a premium subscription.

The Journal has a lot working in its favor with this venture. By polling its target audience, who are already users of its product, it can figure out exactly the best way to generate incremental revenue from its mobile apps. Is it by including a charge in a higher online subscription fee? A separate mobile charge? Per article? Also, Apple's recent iPhone software update enables the journal (and other app-providers) to easily charge a subscription fee, rather than just charge to download the application. For the sake of the journalism business I hope other newspapers are looking at the potential to charge for mobile content. If people are hooked, and the application really works, people might just pay.

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