The ongoing Murdoch versus Google story continues to unfold, providing food for thought about the future of online news and user behaviour.
The stand-off between the newspaper and online industries went up a notch last week when America’s largest metropolitan newspaper The New York Times announced that it will start charging readers for online content from 2011.
Following the subscription model of the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, The New York Times will offer a limited number of articles for free viewing, after which users will have to register and pay for any additional content.
NYTIMES.com is the most popular online newspaper in America and New York Times Company executives are hoping that the new system will enable them to profit from the loyalty of regular users, without completely blocking the site from its millions of occasional readers.
It’s risky: a segment of the New York Times readership may well be staunchly loyal and happy to pay for quality content from their trusted brand. However there is surely another (possibly bigger) group of users who like the brand just fine, but wouldn’t hesitate to change to another publication if it saved hassle and money. And that’s not even factoring in the website’s traffic from search, which accounts for at least 10 percent of total traffic.
Then there’s also the possibility that the age of social media and information overload is spawning an undiscerning, any-link-clicking generation who happily accepts Tweets and blog posts as news, or is disinterested in news on the whole.
This group of users consumes online content by following links posted by their contacts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, or by using a search engine. They will rarely go and check an established news site to see what might’ve happened during the day, and prefer to wait for someone else to point them to a specific story or event.
This confines the group of users who will potentially pay to more intellectual or serious thinkers and my guess is that this is an ever decreasing minority (there’s a reason journalists everywhere are being retrenched).
More and more newspapers are jumping on the paywall bandwagon because revenue gained from online advertising is simply not sufficient to sustain their operating costs, largely due to Google and friends dominating the online advertising market.
The Guardian, second most popular online newspaper in the UK, revealed that it is also considering charging for content on its digital media news website PaidContent.
It may work. We won’t know until they try. But didn’t they already try?