So the Times has taken the plunge, and is proposing to charge £2 per week for access to its online content from June. Would you pay? I obviously wouldn’t, because I can read the paper edition for free at work.
The bigger question is, how will the rest of the newspapers respond? The Guardian frequently argues against charging for online content, though they have created an iPhone app. The Telegraph, as the biggest-selling quality paper will be more influential. £2 per week is relatively cheap (the print editions will cost you over £8). On the other hand, they haven’t got to pay the costs of printing and distributing online news, so it should be cheaper. On the other hand, there’s a difference between £2 per week and £104 per year – that’s the difference between a big wodge of cash and a micropayment system. If you pre-register now, you can get free access for a while, which I suppose will help people make their minds up.
But they have to do something, the newspapers. They’re all haemorrhaging cash (The Times and Sunday Times lost £87.7 million last year, though the parent company is still making money from their tabloids), so they need to fix their broken business model.
In a presentation to the company’s journalists, James Harding, the Editor of The Times, said yesterday that he appreciated that people saw this as a risk but “nowhere near as big a risk as continuing to do what we’re doing”.
He added: “Paid content is the only way that we are going to see a sustainable economic model for quality journalism.”
Mr Harding added: “Saying that our journalism is worthless and dumping it free online is not a viable economic model.” Even were The Times to double its online readership over the next five years the revenue created through non-subscription means would be too low to sustain a quality newspaper, Mr Harding said