Posted July 17, 2009 10:12 am by with 9 comments

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The newspaper industry is still struggling to figure out what it will be when it grows up. Ad revenue is in the toilet and the news acquisition habits of people, even those who have traditionally turned to newspapers for news, has moved online at an increasing rate. We all know that in order to survive newspapers have to change but the debate has always been around exactly how to do it.

The editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, has thrown down the gauntlet of sorts. The Guardian reported that during a speech at the Media Standards Trust event at the British Academy he predicted that within a year almost all news organizations will be charging for content.

Barber said building online platforms that could charge readers on an article-by-article or subscription basis was one of the key challenges facing news organisations.

“How these online payment models work and how much revenue they can generate is still up in the air,” Barber said in a speech at at a Media Standards Trust event at the British Academy last night.

“But I confidently predict that within the next 12 months, almost all news organisations will be charging for content.”

The industry has been playing with a variety of techniques from free access to everything (The New York Times) to paid online subscriptions (Wall Street Journal) to a frequency of articles model that the Financial Times uses. Even the New York Times may be giving up the “All the news that’s fit to print (is free)” approach

Barber said last night , that the Financial Times had pioneered the concept of a “frequency model”, giving access to a limited number of articles on the web before asking users to subscribe.

“We are seeing sustained and growing revenue as a result of our strategy of premium pricing for quality, niche global content – crucial at a time of weakening advertising,” he added.

“Many news organisations are following suit in charging, latterly the New York Times which had previously come down in favour of free access to its own content.”

So it’s obvious that the newspaper industry is trying to stay around and Barber’s take is that someone is going to need to break the news. I can see his point. The vast majority of blogs don’t break news they report and comment on it. Many of the news sources online are still from traditional news outlets. It requires more than a blogger and a laptop to actually report on the news in total even if the coverage in one niche.

Barber continued to say

Barber said he had not come to “preside over a wake” but to make some “modest suggestions on how good journalism can not only survive but thrive in the digital age”.

He said the new digital world “poses a threat but also an enormous opportunity to established news organisations”, and warned that the “mediocre middle” was most at risk.

Maybe that’s what will happen in all of this after all. Is it possible that while newspapers may have fundamental changes in delivery etc the main sources will still thrive and survive while the weaker players are eliminated? Interesting take for sure but no matter how you look at it, the next year in the newspaper industry is looking like a “make or break” proposition.

  • I understand the “we have to do something to stay afloat” mentality, but I personally don’t ever see myself spending money to read news articles any more. The business model of the “news” industry has a lot of holes in it and with sites (aggregators) such as Google News compiling top stories, it becomes increasingly difficult to charge customers to read articles.

    Here’s a case-in-point. I use to live in a town that had a local paper and when I moved away I went to their website to view the online version to catch up on things going on “back home”. Unfortunately for me, they wanted to charge me to read articles. So what did I do? I never went back to the site again and instead relied on friends, family, and other methods of gathering “top stories”. Who lost in this? Definitely the paper because I’m one less “user” they can offer their advertisers…think of this on a much larger scale and how much will that impact advertiser income? A lot.

    The internet was the game changer…traditional media should have embraced that back in the 1990’s. Those that didn’t are now scrambling to even stay in business. It’s sad, but companies are reaping the decisions they made years ago…whether good or bad.

    Now all we need is the government to bail them out…….


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  • I would advice everyone here to read The Fourth State by Jeffery Archer. Its just we have entered another era now, so there are gonna be a lot of changes 😉

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  • i’m not sure the media industry could coax monetization the same way as, say the music industry could. while both can receive income through ad-supported avenues, music at least has its own product to sell. individual bloggers may not yet be as organized as established media companies, but still i see no other form of revenue for them other than advertising unless they provide a separate and exclusive product/service.

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  • Thanks for the article I gave it a tweet

  • What the old and established newspapers have is their reputations, i.e. brand names with a certain content, which is the result of years work. Why don`t they use this in the Net, where one of the major concerns is the false information.

    I am sure people can subsribe it in the same way as they subscribe paper editions. The newspaper industry has ruined its own business by delivering the content ( or part of it ) for free. Of course they have to think online products in its own way, not as online versions but as separate products with its own marketing strategy.

  • I agree that the mediocre middle is most vulnerable here. Many resourceful bloggers are capturing huge audiences with their unique points of view, while the mass media will thrive on ad revenue from multiple sources. Local newspapers will simply have to offer a better online experience, attract an audience and demonstrate its exposure to advertisers. People won’t pay for news they can get elsewhere – especially when it’s just a click away.

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