NYT.com to charge for content?

Recently, Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch announced that within the next year News Corporation-owned newspaper Web sites will begin charging for content (See it at CNN or view a transcript).

“We are now in the midst of an epochal debate over the value of content and it is clear to many newspapers that the current model is malfunctioning,” said Murdoch.

“We have been at the forefront of that debate and you can confidently presume that we are leading the way in finding a model that maximizes revenues in return for our shareholders… The current days of the Internet will soon be over.”

Murdoch’s comments show how little he truly understand the web.

I disagree with Vanessa Thorpe’s article in The Observer, in which she says, “Consumers who have grown up during the past 15 years are completely at home in a world where much of what they want to hear, see or read will cost them nothing. True, in the case of some films and TV shows, the practices involved may skirt around the law a bit. Generally speaking, though, culture has become a happy free-for-all. Now may be the time to pay the bill.”

Rather, as part of the generation who ‘grew up in the last 15 years’ I think I can testify that if the Times went to a pay-per model I would probably stop reading it. There are too many other (and more objective) news sources available online.

Now, from another point of view, their are several problems with charging for content. The first is that it makes it harder to find. It makes SEO moot. Once you put your content behind a wall, you are counting purely on you’re brand to be able to pull in readers; you are assuming that they will seek you out. That, to be blunt, takes a lot of guts.

Second, it eliminates social media sharing of your content. There is a reason social media is such a popular topic these days: despite all the ‘bad’ things that can be said about it, when it works in your favor it is good. It is great. It sends tons of page views, and people to your site. And, best of all the kind of people who find links that they visit on social media sites are the types who will repost it (or RT it) if they like what they see – further spreading it. When you put it behind a wall, viewers/readers can no longer link to it.

Third, it encourages stealing. Yes, I know, this is controversial. But, on the internet, where there is little if anything to link you to what you put online (and where most 10th graders can create a fake ip address to make it look like someone else is posting what they are… or where you can post from an anonymous place – a library, or cafe) there is NOTHING to stop someone from buying a ‘membership’ and reposting the content there for free. By charging for content, Murdoch would essentially be daring the online community – it’s already found ways to post and download music and video content for free; he’d be daring them to find a way to do the same with news.

I don’t think we’ve found a working model, or a way to do any of this ‘right’ yet. And I understand the motivation for charging for online content – but I still think that that is no better than giving content away for free. I suppose we’ll see with time … because either Murdoch will do this, and fail, or will do this and succeed (or i suppose, he’ll back down and not do it). Only time will tell.

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