After years of newspapers charging readers for "premium" access to content, push has now come to shove.
In recent weeks there's been talk from both The New York Times
and The Wall Street Journal
about making most or all their content free. Keeping in mind the old adage, "the best things in life are free," what does free content mean and what exactly does free content bring? Readers will get access to editorials and feature content, but will papers necessarily get more readers? Will the loss of subscription revenue be offset by the ad revenues generated from a wider online audience?
None of this is that clear, of course, but one thing is for sure, the newspaper industry is a-changing. The Christian Science Monitor
's Dante Chinni speculates
that while the Web can no longer be ignored by newspapers, "the demise of pay-for-news on the Web would also mean we are still a long way from figuring out how news organizations will function in the new news world."
If newspapers stop charging their readers a fee it might not be because of a shared compassion for its audience. It will most likely result because their exclusive content isn't so exclusive anymore. With the likes of news aggregators
such as digg.com and old fashion cutting and pasting that many bloggers take to, the content is in many cases already being shared for free. And if this is the case, it follows that the newspapers might just want readers to cast eyeballs directly on the source of their fancy content, rather than patronizing third party channels.
Newspapers will have to rely on more than just free content if they want to survive and thrive on the mean streets of the Web. Diversifying revenue sources and continuing to ride the Web 2.0 bandwagon
are two of the priority goals. Chinni also predicts that "online fee content probably isn't going to be the answer for newspapers"; rather, the move seems more an admission of the defeat of a tactic, and a turn which makes the business of modern news gathering just that much harder to figure out.