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Consumers Say "No" to Paid News Content

Posted on 9.22.2009

Times are tough in the publishing world. And the news doesn't seem to be getting any better. A new survey from PaidContent:UK and Harris Interactive polled nearly 1,200 UK readers and found that a scant five percent would consider paying for their "favorite" news site if it began charging for access. Close to 75 percent said they would find a free alternative while the others would either continue to scan headlines or were "not sure" what they would do.

This comes on the heels of Rupert Murdoch's proposed plan to form a "bloc" of sorts, urging top content providers to start charging for access all at the same time. The idea is that by blocking access in unison, users will be forced to pay up. But if this recent study is any indication, it doesn't look good for Mr. Murdoch and friends.

“This does not look like good news for a pay model in a competitive environment,” says Andrew Freeman, Harris’ senior media research consultant. “As long as free alternatives exist, consumers will turn to them for their daily news information, meaning heavy losses in terms of audience figures for those that charge. It remains to be seen whether the news industry will take the leap and begin charging for that which has been free for so long.”

One interesting note is that younger readers are far more likely to pay for content than their older counterparts. Among those aged 16-24, 13 percent would pay to continue reading; among those aged 25-34, 6 percent would pay. Just one percent of those aged 35-44 would pay.

What's often left out of the discussion of paid vs. free content is a middle ground, hybrid model. The Wall Street Journal, for example, offers free content, but premium content requires a paid subscription and they have been very successful. That's because much of their content is of tremendous value to the financial community and drives business decisions. (Full disclosure - Website Magazine also utilizes the hybrid model, with a free quarterly edition but a paid monthly subscription.)

As a publisher, how are you dealing with declining ad revenue? How do you monetize your content and what are your plans moving forward? Please join the discussion by commenting below.

Also read: WordPress Membership Plugins, Transparency is So 2008. And don't miss Website Magazine's November issue, including an article on selling Informational Products - Subscribe now!

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