How can Newspapers Survive Online?

There are about 35 Newspapers in the US that currently charge for their content - among them the Wall Street Journal. This strikes me, and from what i read around the web, many many others as a fundamentally wrong approach. The WSJ is a no go zone for me, i wont link to it becuase not everyone here will have a paid subscription and i can find good stuff elsewhere. Follow the title link above for the full post.

Merrill Lynch: Dour Forcast for Newspaper Publishers

MediaDaily Report:

Calling online editions a "bright spot," a top Wall Street firm issued a report Friday that nonetheless offers a dour forecast for newspaper publishers in 2005, both in terms of advertising and circulation revenues. The report, issued by the equities research team at Merrill Lynch, projects that "absent any year-end positive" news in ad spending among the major publishers, newspaper ad spending would "decelerate" during the fourth quarter of 2004.

The Times Want to Charge you for Content

The New York Times are considering charging for subscriptions according to BusinessWeek:

Advertising accounts for almost all of the digital operation's revenues, but disagreement rages within the company over whether should emulate The Wall Street Journal and begin charging a subscription fee. Undoubtedly, many of the site's 18 million unique monthly visitors would flee if hit with a $39.95 or even a $9.95 monthly charge. One camp within the NYT Co. argues that such a massive loss of Web traffic would cost the Times dearly in the long run, both by shrinking the audience for its journalism and by depriving it of untold millions in ad revenue. The counterargument is that the Times would more than make up for lost ad dollars by boosting circulation revenue -- both from online fees and new print subscriptions paid for by people who now read for free on the Web.

Sulzberger declines to take a side in this debate, but sounds as if he is leaning toward a pay site. "It gets to the issue of how comfortable are we training a generation of readers to get quality information for free," he says. "That is troubling."

David Rothman at Teleread has some suggestions for the Times and among them are some reasonable ideas - they're a bit lengthy to quote here so do take a look at the link above. Staci at paidcontent had this to say however:

The Times already charges for premium content and services like the crossword puzzle, mobile edition, news tracker, archives, and the company will continue to mine its archives and content for potential premium sells. Between that and continuing online advertising growth, there's no reason to dismantle the current system. If the company opts for some kind of overarching content subscription down the road, I'd expect and hope for some creative thinking that wouldn't wall off the site.

And if that were the only problem...

There's also the large issue of how communications work on the internet and the recent phenomenon of Citizen Journalism or Grass Roots Journalism as championed by ex Mercury jouno Dan Gilmor. The idea of the news being reported, disseminated and distributed via the blog as a network is one that is already happening and growing at an amazing rate.

The Times as a Newsletter for the Elderly?
In fact, there was a great flash movie put out by the Museum of Media History reported in Dec last year by Threadwatch - It's a killer look at the possible future of the media - it left the Times in tatters and a new company, Googlezon riding high - watch it, it's awesome!

So what can Newspapers do?

The short answer, for me is that i dont know for sure, but I do know that it isn't paid subscriptions - that will kill them faster than they might imagine i suspect. One thing they might look at is not fighting citizen media and the whole blog thing and try leveraging it instead - the content as a series of blog posts with relevant targetted ads of course, complete with comments and trackback could bring them right back into the forefront of journalism (as it's seen online anyway) and allow them to take advantage of the movement rather than deny it, or worse, fight it. Le Monde, the worlds largest newspaper have been working along similar lines by opening up blogs for their readers - maybe that's a way forward?

Tell us what you think. How can Newspapers survive online?


Niche and Business

Ask Seobook, it's a lot like ebooks, if you have a niche newspaper that will help people in their commercial lives (think WSJ) that originates news you can probably charge for content. But it needs to be seen as being vital otherwise it is like fiction ebooks which cannot command the $50+ pricetag that a good niche non-fiction book can get.

Yes, but if the online media

Yes, but if the online media cannot convert visitors to profit to some degree, then why not a subscription system?

I was against it, when Britannica turned subscription-only a few years back. But now, so long as many papers are offering niche content then it's not too much of an issue. I subscribe to precisely because of that.

However, if the BBC or CNN were charging then there would be outrage.

More suggestions

newspapers could try contextually placing selected classifieds (paid at premium prices) throughout their websites. It's the same concept as Google's AdSense, which puts Google text ads on websites, with the ads complementing article content. Those bicycle classifieds might show up on sports and recreation stories, for example. Classified-ad buyers could even bid on placement, a la the models of Google AdWords and Overture.

Steve Outing at Poynter via Greg Linden who added:

It's surprising newspapers aren't doing this more already.

Readers aren't coming to newspapers just through the front page. Web feeds and deep linking means that readers are often coming directly to article pages.

When they come, it's a perfect time to show them a bunch of interesting and relevant other content. "Here's the article you want. Want to know more? Here's a few related articles and links to related areas of our site. And here's a few of our classifieds and local businesses that might be useful."

The article page could be like a mini-front page, but focused around the article. It could be a selected view into the newspaper, surfacing parts of the newspaper relevant to the article, hiding parts that are not. It could help readers learn more, draw them in, and show them what the paper has to offer.

Bloody hell Greg, Shhhhhhhhhh! They may start to get it! hehe...

Sounds like.....

Le Monde have some smart cookies working for them. (at the moment anyone linking to something French is likely to be crucified for Anti-American behaviour.)