Would you pay for Your Online News?

the timesAre you loyal to your local newspaper? Or do you get your daily dose of news from news aggregators online? Maybe you find out the latest gossip through your Twitter feed? There are a seemingly limitless number of ways to get the news you crave both on- and off-line, with mainstream media in heated competition with its new and social counterpart. In order to remain profitable and still compete online, The Times – a UK-based daily newspaper – was the first of its kind to move content behind a paywall a few weeks ago. Looking at its current readership and number of subscribers, we can safely say that people will pay for news online… up to a point. Would you?

The Times went behind a paywall earlier this month, and is the first general paper – not a niche or specialist publication – to do so. As it is part of Rupert Murdoch’s holdings this move might come as no surprise: Murdoch has already moved his Wallstreet Journal behind a paywall with some success. The Times, however, does not provide niche content like Wallstreet Journal’s financial specialty, and many in the media industry speculated that it would struggle to retain readers after a paywall had been implemented.

Hitwise Intelligence prepared a report on The Times since its changeover to paid content. Prior to the paywall, The Times had a marketshare of 4.29% in the Online Print News and Media category. Two weeks after the paywall was erected, that dropped to just 1.37%.

While this might appear to be dismal news for Murdoch, Hitwise points out that The Times has retained a third of their online readers, and these readers are spending three minutes on average on the site – indicating that they are still reading content at The Times website.

The Times, then, must offer something to readers beyond a specialized topic. Because it is a daily, general newspaper, it could not rely on a niche market. Instead, it appears as though readers see The Times as trustworthy, quality reporting that many are willing to pay for.

A lot of people online can’t be bothered to pay for content, making the argument that so much of it is free that it’s simply not worth paying for – you can always find it somewhere else. However, the case of The Times might just poke holes in the theory that “most” people think this way. Indeed, if you compare the news you get on an aggregator such as Digg to the news you get from a more established media like The Times, you’re likely to find better reporting and more in-depth stories in the latter. That’s not to say that content aggregators aren’t useful. In fact, we recently covered three content aggregators that you’ll actually use, and these illustrate the nuances of the traditional vs. social media quality debate. However, in order to compete with services like these, The Times and its ilk must find a way to make an online presence profitable.

If your favorite news source decided to go behind a paywall, would you pay? Or would you look elsewhere online for news?