‘Will you pay for news?’ … ‘Hell, no!’

By Steve Outing

In this Denver Post story about parent company MediaNews Group’s new plan to charge for online news content, there’s an informal online poll. The results aren’t pretty for MNG.

I’m quoted as the dissenting voice in this piece by reporter Andy Vuong, but it’s a tiny clip and he leaves out most of my arguments against the MNG plan. I suppose it’s tough for a journalist to report in a balanced manner on your own company’s new grand plan. But this is mostly puff for an ill-advised business strategy that, in my humble opinion, will turn out to be a disaster.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

9 Responses to "‘Will you pay for news?’ … ‘Hell, no!’"

  1. Suzanne Lainson
    Suzanne Lainson 8 years ago .Reply

    I’m a print subscriber, so as long as I can still get the print edition, I don’t really care. If they drop the print edition and want me to subscribe online only, I probably wouldn’t do it.

  2. Jim Buie
    Jim Buie 8 years ago .Reply

    May I glean some (perhaps naive) optimism from the unscientific web poll? An aggressive campaign to encourage readers to DONATE or give micropayments for journalism they find valuable might work. Even if only 10 percent of a heavily trafficked news website’s visitors were willing to pay $5 a month, that could help a great deal. Say a news web site like DenverPost.com attracts two million unique visitors a month. Say about 10%, or 200,000 can be persuaded to donate $5 a month — that’s a million dollars a month or $12 million dollars a year. Would that not be a good chunk of change to run a profitable news operation?

  3. Adam Jav?rek
    Adam Jav?rek 8 years ago .Reply

    The biggest Czech newspaper MF DNES did a similar poll on its website.

    Results: 12300 readers (97 %) said No, 390 said Yes…

  4. Matt
    Matt 8 years ago .Reply

    I wonder what will happen when people discover that Google doesn’t report news…

  5. Christopher Ryan
    Christopher Ryan 8 years ago .Reply

    I’d like to see similar polling from the ’70s or ’80s when cable TV first arrived.

    I’ll bet that a similarly overwhelming percent of people said they would never pay for TV. But look how things turned out…

    (Don’t get me wrong — I’d love to see news websites remain free. But the free model just isn’t working…)

  6. frankwolftown
    frankwolftown 8 years ago .Reply

    They could always do what the AP and Fox News wanna do. They could try and get money out of Google.

  7. Bill Densmore
    Bill Densmore 8 years ago .Reply

    Just about everytime I get on an airplane these days, I take the opportunity to do so market survey work on news and payments. I am finding more and more that when you pose this question: “If you began to see that the news you depend upon is going away because of financial problems in the industry, would you be willing to pay a few dollars a month to get a good package of news that matters to you online?” Invariable the answer is: “Yes.” That was not true even a year ago. The layoffs and bankruptcies are sending a message. Also, I don’t think MNG has talked about micropayments, per see. I think they have just talked generally about finding a way to invite people to pay for local content. There are a lot of options for that besides nickel and diming.

  8. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 8 years ago .Reply

    Bill: I agree that’s a good sign (anecdotally).

    MNG *is* talking micropayments specifically; see the Denver Post story linked to above, as well as the informal DenverPost.com survey that also uses the term “micropayment.” From what I know, they are looking at all options, though it’s odd that their reporter would emphasize the micropayment one.

    I still don’t see it happening. I predict that voluntary “memberships” that get the member special things (not necessarily content) will become more prevalent for individual sites or networks of sites (and affiliated mobile services) to support reporting and content creation.

    And if news publishers start to lock down content, they’ll just invoke a consumer reaction similar to what the music industry saw with Napster, et al. We (millions of Internet users) have become accustomed to access to many sources of news with just a click or two. If a few publishers lock down, they’ll just be ignored; if lots of them do it, people will find ways to circumvent the pay systems.

  9. Jonathan Este
    Jonathan Este 8 years ago .Reply

    I’m with Matt, someone has to report the news and that generally means being paid. On reflection, if even a small percentage of news junkies is willing to pay for premium news content then it ought to be possible to sustain a newsroom of professional journalists.
    I think the key will be giving value for money – how can the paid journalist make a difference that is worth my dollars (and micropayment cents)?
    But I worry that lazy and unimaginative news executives will simply see paywalls as a way to keep doing what they’ve been doing and the public will continue to be turned off. If news is enhanced as a premium product and offers information, data and analysis of real use to people and their communities, as well as the chance to be part of a live community of discussion and ideas, then people may be willing to pay for it. I don’t see too many people doing that, just at the moment.

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