Do you think it is a coincidence that The New York Times would publish a story about pay walls one day before we were prepared to cover the same topic on FishbowlNY? Not at all, since whether and how to charge readers for content has been a topic of conversation among media types throughout 2009, and it promises to be just as hot a topic in the coming year — as those musings on how to get readers to pay for something that they might otherwise just get for free actually become reality.
Despite the obvious fears and challenges (loss of readers! no link love from blogs and aggregators!) some media organizations are already employing pay walls. The Wall Street Journal has a pay model that many hold up as exemplary — not all of its content is behind the pay wall, but subscribers are able to access everything, and for only $2 a month for online-only subs. Long Island local newspaper Newsday went behind a pay wall this fall, and more local newspapers will be introducing pay walls next year.
But what’s more telling is the pubs that have yet to launch pay walls, although they have been talking about possibly debuting them this year. As the Times‘ article yesterday aptly pointed out:
“Publishers who sounded early this year as though they were raring to go have not yet taken the leap, and the executives who advocate change tend to range from vague to cautious in making any predictions about fundamentally changing the finances of their battered businesses.”
One publisher who has put off launching a pay wall this year is the Times, although executive editor Bill Keller has dropped hints about pay wall plans for months.
Any discussion about pay walls would be remiss if it did not include Rupert Murdoch, who has made no secret of his disdain for news aggregators and blogs who pull content from his News Corp. newspapers and news channels’ Web sites. We can just see Murdoch in a lair somewhere cooking up a pay wall scheme for The New York Post and Fox News. What will Murdoch and News Corp. have in store for us in the New Year? Here’s a hint, from Murdoch’s Journal op-ed earlier this month:
“In the new business model, we will be charging consumers for the news we provide on our Internet sites. The critics say people won’t pay. I believe they will, but only if we give them something of good and useful value. Our customers are smart enough to know that you don’t get something for nothing.”
When talking about pay walls, publishers tend to throw around the same keywords they use when talking about e-readers. But the difference is that with pay walls we have no choice but the pay up, and for content that is exactly what we were previously getting for free. No added value necessary. The catch is that we will pay, but only for information from sources that we think are worthwhile. And when we want to check out the cover of the Post, we’ll go to a newsstand.