Newspaper Publishers Delusional on Paid Content

Alan Mutter provides an overview and commentary on a survey that indicates, as he puts it, “only” 51 percent of newspaper publishers in the United States believe they can charge successfully for access to their interactive content.

I would be astounded if 50 percent of American newspaper publishers somehow manage to extract direct revenue from online readers. I still think advertising, in one form or another, is their only hope, though it’s obvious to all that advertising isn’t getting the job done under the current circumstances.

I already pay enough for my broadband Internet access. I don’t relish the prospect of getting nickel-and-dimed as I traverse the web in search of news. I can tolerate web-based advertising, just as I am reconciled to print and television advertising, but it would be beyond my tolerance (financial and otherwise) to have to drop coins into virtual toll booths at every news site I visit on the web. Incidentally, I say that as a voracious reader and an individual who prefers to read and think about his news instead of passively consuming it as a television viewer.

Still, I would aggressively seek a news alternative rather than submit to an online mugging from the likes of plutocrat Rupert Murdoch.

I’m not only one who feels that way. According to the survey by industry consultants Greg Harmon and Greg Swanson, while 68% of the publishers responding to the survey said they thought readers who objected to paying for content would have a difficult time replacing the information they get from newspaper websites, 52% of polled readers said it would be either “very easy” or “somewhat easy” to do so.

Newspaper publishers were put into this conundrum by technological change, especially the rise of the Internet as a news-delivery channel. It was a disruptive change, one that wreaked havoc on their establish business models. The problem was exacerbated enormously by the severe economic downturn that struck with a vengeance last year and persists to this day.

As consumers continue to count their pennies and save at a rate unprecedented in decades, advertising is a tough sell, especially in obsolescent print media. It’s not going gangbusters online, either.

Even so, what on earth makes newspaper publishers think financially battered consumers are in any position to spend disposable income they no longer possess on a service that, while arguably important and valuable, is not essential?

Steve McCroskey, in the movie Airplane, famously said, “It looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.” Newspaper publishers have picked a similarly inopportune time to ask for more money from beleaguered consumers.

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