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Note to Murdoch: People won’t pay

Note to Murdoch: People won’t pay

As News Corp’s titles attempt one of the boldest publishing moves in history, Kipp’s poll reveals that people simply won’t pay. No surprise there, says Sam Potter.

July 5, 2010 3:09 by

It’s happened. The famous newspaper titles owned by Rupert Murdoch, the Times, the Sunday Times, have erected paywalls on their websites to prevent people accessing content for free. It is one of the boldest moves in publishing history.

At stake is the future of journalism, no less. If Murdoch’s ploy succeeds, he will usher in a new era of internet journalism which could save an industry in dire straits. If he fails, then the gambit will likely be remembered as a major milestone in the continuing decline of the professionally reported news.

The introduction of the paywalls was widely reported to be taking place this month, so Kipp decided to do a survey of readers to see how the average internet user would respond if confronted by such a wall. Would they pay for newspaper content online?

The answer is bad news for Mr. Murdoch. A thumping 64 percent of readers refuse to pay on the basis that there is plenty of content out there for free. And with organizations like the BBC setting the standard for online journalism, and doing it for nothing, that seems likely to remain the case. A further 11 percent of readers said they might pay if content was good enough – an indication perhaps that newspapers need to up their game to have even a chance of attracting online dollars.

On the plus side, there were some readers willing to open their wallets. A healthy 12 percent say they would be persuaded to shell out if the content was something they really needed, while 6.5 percent say they will pay whatever. (They recognize the hard work put in by journalists, perhaps.)

The final 6.5 percent say they’ll stick to print editions for their daily news needs. All in all, not very encouraging for the world’s most prominent media magnate. And Kipp readers aren’t the only ones predicting failure for News Corp – the online sphere is littered with blogs predicting the project’s downfall.

Other publishing houses are watching the developments carefully – they hope and pray that Murdoch’s experiment finds a way to make a large journalistic operation pay on the web, because their own futures may depend on it.

But I believe that in their hearts of hearts, they’re thinking the same thing I am: This isn’t going to work. If there was some magic way to make everyone on the internet start charging at the same time, the News Corp move might stand a chance of success. But the fact is there will always be people willing to create and provide content for free, and as long as that is true the vast majority will not pay. It’s human nature. Why pay when it comes for free? So for newspapers, salvation lies not in charging for content (unless you specialize in a valuable sector, like the Financial Times) but in finding alternative revenues.

How and what those are is still anyone’s guess – Murdoch’s included.

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