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OPLIN 4cast #360: Paying for content

Posted in 4cast

dollar signLibrarians have often faced the problem of explaining the need to pay for subscriptions to online magazines, journals, and authoritative information resources. People seem to think that good online information can be accessed for free, and currently a lot of good information can indeed be had online for no charge. But in the words of the Libraries Connect Ohio website, “Authoritative information has never been and will never be free.” Most “free” information is currently subsidized by advertising on the website, but the ad-supported revenue model is beginning to weaken. As people become more accustomed to paying for online video, music, and gaming content, text content is now increasingly turning to the subscription revenue model, too, with newspapers worldwide being the most visible example.

  • News Corp says online news can make money (The Australian/Greg Roberts)  “Australians continue to buy fewer hard copy newspapers, with domestic mastheads such as The Australian, Herald Sun and others responsible for 70 per cent of that fall and newspaper circulation and subscription revenues down 6.0 per cent. Many of the newspaper websites are now behind paywalls as it tries to monetise increasing online readerships, which have not been matched by online ad revenue. […] Chief executive Robert Thompson told analysts in a teleconference in the US that while ad revenues had to rise the company wanted to become less ad-dependent and more subscription focused.”
  • Digital subscriptions to the Times and Sunday Times top 150,000 (The Guardian/Josh Halliday)  “Emma Tucker, the recently-appointed Times deputy editor, described the figures as ‘incredibly exciting’ for the future of the title. ‘The paywall was a real challenge for everybody in the paper to get it to fly so this shows a great belief in paid-for content,’ she said. ‘We had detractors [when the Times launched its paywall in 2010] but these figures show you can make a success of it.’ Tucker said she believed there is now less hostility to paid-for models than three years ago, when its paywall divided industry opinion in the absence of a a clear cut digital business model for general interest newspapers.”
  • Digital subscription gains outpace print decline for Chicago Tribune (Chicago Tribune/Robert Channick)  “One year after launching its online pay wall, the Tribune is clearly gaining some digital traction. The newspaper said it has more than 693,000 registered users on, which is up from about 230,000 a year ago. Traffic on the website averaged more than 116 million monthly page views, up nearly 12 percent over last year, according to executives.”
  • Are the days of free content on the net numbered? (BBC News/Orin Gordon)  “[Computer science engineer Robert] Cailliau thinks that monthly subscriptions are too expensive and restrictive. He says the pay-as-you-go mobile phone model is a great one for online content. ‘When you send an SMS, you pay a small amount of money. Each individual action should be billed individually,’ he says. ‘My browser should pay you automatically a cent or two cents per page without me feeling it. I should not have to prepay a large amount of money. Why re-invent? The telephone already does that. We already have a worldwide system that’s capable of billing the customer for every move he makes.’”

Revenue fact:
According to 2012 data compiled by the Newspaper Association of America, newspaper advertising revenue declined 6%, circulation revenue increased 5% (and digital-only circulation revenue grew 275%), and about 10% of all newspaper revenue now comes from new revenue sources, such as consulting fees for helping local businesses market their products online.