Rupert Murdoch may be leading the pack when it comes to charging for content, but he's not dumb enough to go it alone. The News Corp. chief said recently that all of his publications will start charging for content within a year. And now it appears that he's got plans to get other publications to go in with him. According to The Los Angeles Times, News Corp. execs have been meeting with major publishers to create a media consortium that collectively charges for articles across digital platforms. 

Why does Murdoch want help? Because his papers will take a nosedive in readership when he starts charging for content. One way to stave off the bleeding is to make sure that other news providers are siphoning their content behind a pay wall as well.

According to The Los Angeles Times, News Corp. has recently met with representatives from The New York Times Co., Washington Post Co., Hearst Corp. and Tribune Co. (who publishes the Los Angeles Times).

Alan D. Mutter, a former newspaper columnist and editor and consultant on new media ventures, tells the paper:

"The reality is that unless a lot of people who produce news act in unison to start charging for content, then individually they will fail."

Why is that? Because as much as the advertising industry may be hurting right now, publishers need the dollars they get online. And while charging for subscriptions may bring in more revenue, the money lost when non-paying readers opt out of their content will be a big hit.

Internet ads account for just 12% of a newspaper's revenue, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, but those numbers will drop even further when media audiences shrink. And that is something they are guaranteed to do when newspapers start charging for online access to articles.

The Financial Times, which charges for its content and has received a good deal of press for its business model lately, has only 117,000 worldwide readers. That's up this year from 101,000 in 2007, but it is still a tiny reader base. Compared to The New York Times' 227,000 readers in 2007, The Financial Times has far fewer readers — and much less influence with the greater online audience.

That's not a problem for niche publications so much, but for general interest publications that are considering joining a paid consortium, it is problematic. At least if the major papers go in together on subscription fees they won't be stuck watching behind a pay wall as some other free national publication steals their traffic and ad dollars.

Even if all major publishers agree to join a consortium, there's still plenty of room for smaller, more nimble online operations to generate content and page views. But Murdoch is smart to get other big papers on his side when it comes to charging for content. Federal regulators might become a problem if newspapers set their prices together online, but if they are going to charge for content, they're better off doing it together than separately.

Meghan Keane

Published 21 August, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (4)

Meghan Keane

Meghan Keane, US Editor at Econsultancy


That's a good point, but I doubt that most readers of newspapers like The New York Times are "hopelessly lost on the Internet." Advertisers are certainly interested in engaged niche audiences, but even valuable, engaged readers will go elsewhere once newspaper websites go behind a pay wall. And even if the ad model recalibrates accordingly, that could be a big problem.

almost 9 years ago

Meghan Keane

Meghan Keane, US Editor at Econsultancy

Ed, Mostly the problem for newspapers is that they aren't just competing with print publications online. Web only newsites live and die by their advertising and will continue to be free even if all major newspapers collectively go behind a pay wall. It is definitely an interesting subject, and I'll be writing about it more going forward. Best, Meghan

almost 9 years ago



One firm not into that is Reuters. They have their own news site - and it is

not a bad one. Reuters are not so much into commenting, punditry and the

like, but more into news on top of their non-charging policy. This might earn

the favour of quite a few.

The other thing is that many tabloid readers for instance have not much

respect for what they read. They accept it only as only as long the "sh..."

is cheap (or free). And many make no secrets out of their attitude, hence

marketing research should not be difficult.

And yes, it is likely to be a race to lose readers in many cases.

And other factors might increasingly play an increasingly role, like the price

strategies for advertisers. One somehow well example of a failed (and

actually incredible ad price strategy) is this one (one of the mentioned

papers went out of business some time ago):

almost 9 years ago



Sorry, I either made a mistake or the something did not work when

trying to insert the link to the article ... the well known example of

a failed price strategy: (hopefully this time)

In order to make good for the mistake ( I hope it's ok) here something

for entertainment: an old advertisement aimed at students to become

reporters. It was done around 1940 and has it's own quality. Sense of

humor? Ever considered to become a journalist and work for a newspaper?

almost 9 years ago

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