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The digital future of print media – Will consumer pay for the news? – Part 1

11-December-2009
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The digital future of print media – Will consumer pay for the news? – Part 1

“We need to do a better job of persuading consumers that high-quality, reliable news and information does not come free, Good journalism is an expensive commodity” – when Rupert Murdoch, the News Corp Chairman said this during a US Federal Trade Commission public workshop, he gave a clear indication that news for digital readers would not be free any more. These comments further give impetus to the debate on monetisation of news content on the digital medium. Where internationally this concept of monetising web audience to fund news operations could not take off well, it will be interesting to see how the Indian media industry is reacting to this new way of funding digital news business direct from the pocket of the consumers.

But when readers are already used to free content, how can they be convinced to pay for the news? Ashish Bagga, CEO, India Today Group, commented, “The routine news is available everywhere. We need to add depth and perspective to the routine news to create a differentiator if we want the readers to pay for our services. Once the readers are convinced that they will derive more from our content, they will be willing to pay for it.”

“In the US, many quality newspapers with large online audiences, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, have not been able to monetise their web audiences to the degree necessary to fund their news operations,” noted Matthew Palevsky, Editor, Huffington Post.

He further said that the legacy news outlets that had found success in these hard times had done so through maintaining a strong base of paid subscribers, which had been the case with the Wall Street Journal and The Economist in the US.

According to Tarun Rai, CEO, Worldwide Media, “Just because consumers are used to free content doesn’t mean that they can’t be persuaded to pay for it. If it happened to music, so can it happen to news. The question really is of value. If people see value in the news content, they will pay. Unfortunately, a lot of news content is commoditised and, therefore, one news source is as good as the other.”

Rishi Khiani, CEO, Times Internet Ltd, sees the digital medium as an opportunity. He explained that time starved users looking for credible and timely source of content would pay for the news content. “We don’t see monetisation in the digital space as a problem, but more of an opportunity. Let’s view the digital space as not just 60 million online Indians, but as 117 million users with web-enabled mobile phones,” he remarked.

Khiani cited the example of The Times of India, which has created a new market at a new price point with The Times of India Crest Edition. “Steve Jobs was able to convince consumers with music download and create a multi-billion dollar business for his company,” he concluded.

Money will follow ‘Valuable Content’

WWM’s Rai observed, “People may be willing to pay for strong points of view and analysis. Business model does not have to be black and white. A news source can give part of the content free but charge for specific content, which may be of special interest to a certain section of the audience and not to everyone.”

On a similar note, Khiani said that given the dynamics of the Internet media, publishers would need to explore subscription models. “Users will always pay for exclusive non-commodity content (WSJ has had a similar model for some time now),” he noted.

Huffington Post’s Palevsky observed, “It will be easier to sell magazine content and news about niche issues than selling general daily news. Automated aggregators like Google and AOL, curatorial sites like Huffington Post and Daily Beast, and the giant growth of the blogosphere make it unlikely that people will be willing to pay for access to breaking news when they can get it in a thousand different ways for free.”

India Today Group’s Bagga said, “In many of our publications, like Business Today, etc., we already generate hugely useful content that serves many utilities like research, company valuations, etc. If we are able to make this kind of stuff available digitally, they will surely compel people to pay for them.”

“I think the discussion should not be around making people pay, but around making the content valuable. Money will follow later,” said Tarun Rai.

Tomorrow: What digital agencies have to say and the future of such initiatives…

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