More Web Sites Try Charging for Content

Media outlets are jumping on the paid-content bandwagon, with national and regional players alike announcing plans to charge visitors for online access to print and broadcast content.

Freedom Communications — a Florida newspaper publisher — is the latest to join the for-fee parade. The group’s four regional papers will begin charging US$8.50 a month for online subscriptions.

And, ABC News unveiled plans last week to set up an online subscription video service for $4.95 a month.

The Wall Street Journal was an early adopter of this strategy in the print world, charging subscribers $79 a year for online content. And CNN began offering its video service earlier this year for $10 a month.

Jury is Out

Are consumers ready and willing to offer their credit card numbers to access content that used to be free? That jury is still out, according to analysts.

Indeed, paid online content has stirred much debate in the past year as more media outlets have explored the fee-based content strategy amid difficult economic times. But the numbers are clear. Forrester reported that just 9 percent of North American Internet users are willing to pay for online content.

And while 68 percent of that small group prefer a subscription model, according to Forrester, the rest opt for a per-item charge.

Successful Strategies

The WSJ is one of the most successful — indeed, one of the only successful — newspapers to charge subscribers for online content.

“The media players that have been successful in charging for content are the ones that fill a niche market,” Yankee Group analyst Lisa Melsted told the E-Commerce Times.

But analysts said it is a different story altogether for media groups that offer generic content that can be viewed in competing outlets, such as TV, radio and print.

What Readers Want

“It comes back to the old adage that ‘content is king,'” Yankee Group analyst Mike Goodman told the E-Commerce Times. “But the type of content is key in whether or not consumers will pay for it.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s JS Online for-fee sports content provides the industry with a strong model for what consumers are willing to pay.

JS Online has attracted more than 5,500 paying customers for Packer Insider, a sports section that features content from columnists and extensive post-game chats with a Green Bay Packers reporter.

Challenges for the Future

But with the Internet’s “free” culture, media outlets face an uphill battle getting customers to subscribe to the for-fee business model.

“The biggest hurdle that newspapers face is getting people used to the mindset that they are going to have to pay for something they had been getting for free,” said Melsted.

Despite the challenges, online media players are going forward with their for-free strategies, and analysts said consumers will eventually sign on.

“In the long term, I suspect customers will be willing to pay for online content,” said Melsted. “It will definitely be a phased process that will take time.”

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