Why the time might be right to charge for online content

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Press Gazette has the full text of a really interesting speech from FT Editor Lionel Barber in which he makes this rather bold prediction.

‘How these online payment models work and how much revenue they can generate is still up in the air; but I confidently predict that within the next 12 months, almost all news organisations will be charging for content.’

The rest of the speech is here http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=43985&c=1

Well we know Rupert Murdoch has been hinting about charging for online content for a while and a subscription model could revolutionise The Guardian and The Telegraph’s business models. However I think is easier for the editor of the FT to talk about charging for content given the paper’s expertise, authority and strong commercial ties, than it is for the editor of most other UK newspapers for a number of reasons.

It is not bad time to talk about charging for content. Online media is evolving in an interesting way with a lot of the class of 2005 – The Huffington Post, DMZ, TechCrunch etc now having much more in commoun with old media than the world from which they emerged. Secondly there’s clearly a lot less blogging going on, and much of what is written by individuals on blogs these days (this one included) references established media. When blogs do offer interesting and unique opinions they do tend to be about the online world in which they are rooted.

The two things that will make it very tricky for media organisations to charge for content are – 1 blogs. Walled content gardens could actually spark a reniassance in blogging, especially when coupled with tools like Posterous http://posterous.com (which works incredibly well with Twitter), as bloggers simply cut and paste (either physically or intellectually) subscription content from media sources and publish it freely.

2 The BBC. The corp is still going to offer all its content for free, so readers can still access one of the world’s premium news sources for nothing. It makes paying that few quid each month to The Guardian looks a lot less appealing.

Here’s an idea for Brown, Cameron or whoever is running the UK next year. Develop a subscription model for the BBC’s online content. It would generate income, give the commercial sector of the UK media a level playing field and an opportunity to move forward and it would enable the government/corporation to rethink how it funded the BBC.

Just a thought.

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