The Online Subscription Model For Newspapers

According to Rupert Murdoch, there will be subscription charges for all of the “News Corporation’s newspaper websites” within a year,

Rupert Murdoch expects to start charging for access to News Corporation’s newspaper websites within a year as he strives to fix a :­”malfunctioning” business model.

Encouraged by booming online subscription revenues at the Wall Street Journal, the billionaire media mogul last night said that papers were going through an “epochal” debate over whether to charge. “That it is possible to charge for content on the web is obvious from the Wall Street Journal’s experience,” he said.

Asked whether he envisaged fees at his British papers such as the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun and the News of the World, he replied: “We’re absolutely looking at that.” Taking questions on a conference call with reporters and analysts, he said that moves could begin “within the next 12 months‚” adding: “The current days of the internet will soon be over.”

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This is fantastic news — well, for all of Murdoch’s competitors because this isn’t going to work.

People always point to the WSJ as an example of a company with a successful subscription model. The problem with that sort of thinking is that the WSJ can offer something that’s not readily available for free on the web: high quality investment advice from a reputable source.

On the other hand, there’s nothing unique enough about newspapers to merit buying a subscription. Local news? You can get that from your local news show on TV. Columnists, sports, national news, and foreign news? You can get it in high quality, for free, elsewhere. So, why subscribe? Think of it like this: if you could get as much Breyer’s Ice Cream as you wanted, for free, anytime you wanted it, how many people would still pay to buy Ben and Jerry’s? Very, very few.

Moreover, the other problem is that the moment you toss up a subscription wall, nobody is going to link to you anymore. Who wants to send their readers over to an article that they can’t look at without paying a fee?

That’s why the subscription model doesn’t work very well on the net and it’s also why people who care about freedom on the net should be wary: when guys with as much money as Murdoch can’t win in the marketplace, they look for ways to cheat through government. New laws, regulations, lawsuits — anything that slows their smaller, more efficient, but less moneyed and connected competitors down. Watch out, because eventually they’re going to make a real effort to shut down the bloggers, search engines, and link sites that are peeling off their audiences.

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