Most Newspaper Publishers Think You Will Pay

Last Updated Sep 23, 2009 12:56 PM EDT

In one of those surveys that has me scratching my head, 51 percent of U.S. newspaper publishers believe that users will be willing to pay to access online newspaper sites.

The survey, conducted on behalf of the American Press Institute, contained a number of surprising results:

  • 58 percent of publishers said they are considering charging for content.
  • 12 percent said they plan to charge for content by the end of this year.
  • 18 percent said they will begin to do so in Q-1 next year.
  • 38 percent said they will limit full access to stories online to monthly subscribers.
  • 19 percent expect news stories to remain free but say they will place other content behind a paywall.
  • 28 percent say they expect to offer both monthly subscriptions and micropayments for individual articles.
The prospect of micropayments recently got a boost when Google announced it is building a micropayment platform for pubishers that will be ready within a year. As for the rest of these plans, I'm doubtful that very many, if any, major newspapers will be able to charge for their current content online until the micropayment era arrives.

The survey does indicate, however, that print publishers as a group are making more and more of an effort to find a new business model for their online operations. A great number of them have neglected their websites, fearing that if they improved the user experience online, it would simply cannibalize their print products.

As a group, so far, the industry has not figured out how to devise or acquire tools to use their print audiences to drive new users to their websites, which would grow the overall audience. With a new generation of tools becoming available over mobile platforms, however, this could presage a systemic shift in business models over the coming year.

When micropayments are ready, in other words, the path to a sustainable future could reappear.

Related Bnet link:
Thanks to Google, the Micropayment Era Is Closer "In the long and torturous online content debate over free vs. paid, one of the more attractive, if theoretical visions involves the emergence of a micro-payment platform that would allow content sites to collect small fees from users in return for access to premium content..."

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.