Will people pay for content?

Posted by Brandt Dainow on February 25th, 2010 at 12:00 am

There's been quite a bit of talk about whether newspapers can restrict content to subscriber's since Rupert Murdoch said he was going to restrict his news outlets online.  Rupert never says anything unless it serves his business interests, so I doubt it was a co-incidence restricting Google access while signing a deal with Bing in which they will have complete access (for a fee) happened at the same time as he was publicly trying to "save the future of newspapers." Today Neilssen released a study into what people will pay for.  The PDF is at http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/reports/paid-online-content.pdf
  The key findings are:

  • 78% believe that if they already subscribe to a newspaper, magazine, radio or television service they should be able to use its online content for free.
  • 71% say online content of any kind will have to be considerably better than what is currently free before they will pay for it.
  • 79% would no longer use a web site that charges them, presuming they can find the same information at no cost.
  • People are ambivalent about whether the quality of online content would suffer if people could not charge for it —34% think so, 30% think not; 36% have no idea.
  • 62% believe that once they purchase content, it should be theirs to copy or share with whomever they want.

The last point is, I think, the critical one.  People have no real sympathy with copyright law.  They don't see purchasing content as buying access to information.  They see it just the same as buying a product, once they own it, they can do what they like with it.  Since this will inevitably include copying it into locations on the web where others can easily help themselves (and republish) I am forced to conclude you simply cannot restrict content online.  The best you can hope for is to sell it to the few who are willing to pay for getting it first.  The same thing happens with currency exchange rate information.  You can get it for free - 30 minutes late.  If you want it up-to-the moment, you'll have to pay for it (and pay big).  Currency dealers can't operate on a 30-min lag, so they pay.  For the rest of us, 30-min is ok, so we won't.  The trouble is, how much news or written comment is that urgent? In my mind, trying to restrict newspaper or magazine content to subscribers is trying to force the old-world business model onto the web, and it won't fit.  I really don't care if many newspapers go out of business - if they can't adapt they deserve to die - it's called capitalism and that's how it works.  Eventually bright people will discover a new business model which encompasses both online and offline publication.  They'll get first mover advantage, then the rest of the newspaper world will follow...

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