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No news is not good news

Optimize Blog - March 26, 2010 - 0 comments

We read today that The Times Online plans to charge for access to its site – circa $1.60 per day or $3.20 per week – in an attempt to create a viable revenue generating business model to bolster falling revenues from the sale of traditional newspapers.
This is certainly a high risk strategy and one that the industry will be watching with interest. There is so much free news content currently on the internet that it is interesting to see if readers will be prepared to pay for access to The Times.
The glib statement that it is the same price as an average cup of coffee is rather a strange comparison for The Times management to make – as the product and how the product is consumed is not exactly comparing apples with apples. In addition, for all those readers using their companies’ internet access to pop onto the web site, the case for paying is hardly compelling or even viable.
There is a precedent however and the Wall Street Journal has a little over 400,000 subscribers although they offer specialist content which might make the comparison with The Times a little less relevant. The Financial Times also offers a metered site but for its more specialist content and critics of this latest pay strategy say that the model is only viable for specialist content publications.
The gamble here is that although recognizing that they will lose a very large number of casual and some regular online readers the weekly subscriptions will balance out those losses and make the proposition viable.
So what is their USP – the thing that will make the reader look for their news as opposed to someone else’s free news? Is it the style of writing, their ability to get the scoop or simply the layout and accessibility of their site? We can perhaps expect a frenzy of marketing activity as the massive News Corp media empire seeks to change the way we behave and consume news. And this is apparently only the start as further News Corp titles will follow suit in due course.
Here at Zeitgeist we’ll be watching with interest but we are reminded of the large US daily Newsday which three months into its pay trial has just 35 subscribers signed up. A strategy of charging “just because we can” seems basically flawed if your competition provides the same service for free but time will tell if The Times has enough of a loyal customer base to make this strategy a success.

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