Would you pay for online news?

Newsweek last print issue

Over the Christmas holidays Newsweek, the US current affairs magazine which has been published since 1933, produced its last print edition. Its final headline – #lastprintissue – provided a hint at some of the market forces that have ultimately caused the magazine to fall into financial hard times.

The effect of information technology and the Internet on published media is covered in Strand 2 of the ITGS syllabus, Published and Broadcast information (2.5 Home and Leisure). Newsweek, like many newspapers and magazines, has seen a decline in sales in recent years as readers have become used to finding their news content online, often for free. Declining print sales mean lower advertising revenue, which is what ultimately pushed Newsweek into losses. The magazine will now continue as an online only publication, but it is unknown if it will be able to make a profit – online advertising revenues are typically much lower than for printed advertising.

Some newspapers have experimented with charging for access to online content – implementing so-called ‘paywalls’. UK newspapers The Times and The Sunday Times started charging for content in 2010. Although the paper said it quickly hit 100,000 subscribers, traffic to its web site was reported to have dropped by 87% after the paywall was implemented.

Other newspapers have allowed limited content to be accessed for free: UK newspaper The Telegraph recently started asking international readers to pay a monthly subscription after visiting its site 20 times, while The New York Times is hailed as one of the more successful examples of paywalls: it allows readers to access 10 articles for free each month, and has switched the paywall off (allowing everyone free access) for major events such as the US elections.

Of the big-name US newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times all implement some kind of paywall system, and The Washington Post is reported to be considering implementing one in 2013. Quality is one of the great debates of online content, but it remains to be seen whether the majority of readers will be willing to pay for high-quality news online or whether they will move to free sites (perhaps even user-generated or social sites) even if the quality of journalism is lower.

Paying for online news?
How do you feel about paying for online news content? Is viewing news online different to buying a printed newspaper? Feel free to leave some comments below.

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