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Why It Makes Sense to Charge for Online News

From Fortune:

I have more than a passing interest in legacy brands defending their turfs against digital upstarts. With that in mind, I met last week in San Francisco with John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times Group, publisher of the storied British newspaper that’s now owned by the Japanese financial news organization Nikkei.

Ridding has presided over a daring and successful turnaround at the FT. It was the first big paper to institute a paywall, in 2002.

. . . .

The FT was a lonely voice that had the audacity to charge its readers for its high-quality work. Now The New York TimesWashington Post, and The Wall Street Journal are soaring on subscription revenues—and a Trump bump that benefits the FT as well. Ridding is in a celebratory mood because the FT recently crossed a million paying subscribers. He says three-fourths of the company’s revenues are now from digital subs and a similar percentage are from outside the U.K., a complete reversal from the decade-plus-ago situation.

Link to the rest at Fortune

PG likes free stuff as much as anyone else does.

However, in an era in which anyone can start a website selling never-fail weight-loss advice (and supplements) visible to most of the world and send out tweets revealing that Vladimir Putin is an extra-terrestrial spy, reading nonfiction written by someone who is careful with the truth has become increasingly important to PG.

While anyone can speak the truth, locating the truth about important issues can, of course, be difficult and, as a general rule, people who do this for a living are able to provide better information than an Uber driver who passes on what he hears from his passengers.

Significant numbers of people paying to read worthwhile words is, of course, also important for authors of book-length fiction and nonfiction.

PG can remember an enlightening discussion he had with one of his elementary school teachers about the importance of evaluating sources of information because sometimes people who wrote didn’t always tell the truth.

As nearly everyone has observed, the Internet has been devastating for a wide range of news organizations. Perhaps some deserved to go, but others who did good work and could survive on a few thousand paying print subscribers were unable to survive on cost-per-click ads.

While PG does not support cracking down on people saying almost anything online, he does suggest there is real value in paying responsible news organizations (not always a contradiction in terms) to keep doing what they are doing.

Which is why visitors to TPV will see items from The Wall Street Journal excerpted here from time to time.

As Horace Greeley is reported to have said, “Journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it.”

Non-Fiction

9 Comments to “Why It Makes Sense to Charge for Online News”

  1. Go ahead and paywall, bub. If you really want to shoot yourself in the other foot set up a robot.txt telling Google not to index your site.

    News has never ever been free – there has always been advertising you had to wait through or otherwise ignore to get at the ‘news’.

    Remember ‘punch the monkey’? That was the start of advertisers teaching us to block them any way we can. Then there’s the hacked ads spewing virus if you make the mistake of even viewing the pages they are on.

    NoScript and ad blockers are just us trying to protect ourselves and our systems from bad ads. Since we block, sites using ads to make money aren’t getting paid like they used to, so some think they are so ‘good’ that they can charge extra to see/read them.

    Funny thing is, I know a few artist/writers that can’t figure out why thousands of followers on free sites don’t auto-magically turn into hundreds of paying followers when they tried to move to Patreon …

    MYMV and you not price yourself out of your market. 😉

  2. The rational side in people will happily pay for relevant facts.

    The emotional side in people will only pay for fiction that is agreeable.

    Some publications have relevant facts – and other only have agreeable (to some) fiction. Problem is, they all call themselves “journalists.”

  3. Terrence OBrien

    It makes sense to charge for something if people will pay for it.

  4. The FT and WSJ are both industry rags, and the WaPo too (more or less). They cater to a professional audience that needs accurate industry info to do their jobs and stay aware of things that actually affect their finances, political future, etc.

    Local papers and other news that’s merely interesting? Much harder to charge for.

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