Recently, one of my favorite publications, The Baltimore Sun, started charging for content. Their parent company, Tribune, is apparently doing this with most (if not all) of their papers. They are following the lead of some fairly successful efforts by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Back in the mid-to-late 1990s, a lot of companies tried to get consumers to pay for online content and failed miserably. From then on it was all about generating revenue from the sale of banner ads, etc.
Advertising-supported websites, at least in the struggling newspaper industry, seem like they’re becoming a thing of the past. Now, the major players in the industry are giving pay subscriptions for online content another shot.
Where it gets a little strange is that, even if you subscribe to the print edition of The Baltimore Sun, you still have to pay for use of the website. I’d be very interested to know how many people are willing to pay subscription fees for both print and online editions.
Not a subscriber of The Sun? Then you get a whopping 15 pages per month. If you spend a half hour reading various articles on the site, you’ll use your 15 pages up very quickly.
Why do I like The Sun? Mainly because I’m a long-suffering Baltimore Orioles fan. They’re coverage of the team is great. But at this point I haven’t found myself willing to pay for it. I’m gathering my O’s updates from other services who aren’t charging for content.
It’s not that I’m cheap. Well, maybe I am. But it’s definitely not that I don’t sympathize with a struggling industry trying to turn things around. I just think that I’m running into the same dilemma as a lot of folks. Why pay for something when there is a similar product out there for free?
In the case of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, those publications are world-renowned and their content is often considered “must-have”. So it’s understandable why their pay-for-content models are working.
No disrespect to The Sun, or any of the other publications going to subscription plans, but I truly wonder whether users will value their content in the same fashion.