It cannot be denied that newspaper circulation and the rate of real media advertising is on the decline. As more and more people turn to modern technology and the internet for their daily dose of current affairs, news publishers are realizing that what they’re selling in their papers is being read online by their readership without paying a cent. Sure, some of the content may be edited or the article may not be identical, but whether your readers see it on the internet or read it in the paper, they’re still digesting virtually the same content. It seems that an increasing number of publications around the world are asking their online viewers to purchase a membership to their site, in order to be able to read its content.
What the internet does for us on a day to day basis is nowadays taken for granted. Only an odd couple of decades ago, somebody wanting to find out about the most obscure subjects in the world, or any topic at all for that matter, had to spend their time searching, in public libraries or in official records, trying to find a trace of a book, or a publication, or a newspaper or an encyclopedia which answered their queries and calls for information. It seems that, whatever we want to do – whether that be contact friends, buy from the store, research a topic or entertain ourselves – we automatically turn to our internet connections for support.
It’s this culture, I feel, of getting the majority of our content for free that means many people feel cheated for having to pay for the news. We’re so used to being able to turn to Wikipedia that we think it’s preposterous for anybody to ask us for money to read about current affairs, especially on a medium where information is readily available, and in many cases, accessible freely to all.
There are a number of daily news publications here in the United Kingdom who are starting to charge for reading online. One particular example is The Times – it is a newspaper published every day of the week, with a broadsheet addition on Sundays. People merrily type in the website address, scour and scan the day’s headlines, click on a story and are faced with a notice that warns them if they want to access “exclusive content”, they need to pay either $1.50 for twenty four hours, or about $3 a week. It is one of the UK’s most respected publications, and its journalism is very professional, despite being politically aligned - but when visitors are told they have to pay for something they’ve accessed for free for so long, many dive into outrage.
There are two clear sides of the argument that I can see in this debate. Firstly, I do believe that the culture we’ve developed on the web over the last couple of decades means that many of us assume written content on the internet should be free. I don’t have any particular figures, but I do believe that there will not be a great number of people who would enjoy reading a certain newspaper so much, especially when similar, yet free content is available all over the web, to start paying to read it. This is where, when only a select number of publications are charging for online content, you start to doubt how successful their attempts will be. What we understand is that news updates will always be free and available on sites like Wikipedia and hundreds of other sites around the globe – when you pay for content on one site, but on the next can generally access exactly the same stories, it’s likely we know where you’re going to turn. In addition to this, commissioned or license fee based services in the United Kingdom, such as the BBC, cannot charge for their online content because it has already been funded by television viewers across the nation. I very much doubt there will be enough publications turn to paid exclusive content that will force people to pay.
On the other hand, you can recognize where these publications base their argument from: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times – they’re all massive organizations which inform thousands of people every day – but ultimately, their business-based aims means that they’ve got to make money, and they’ve got to pay for the people who work for them. If they’re letting people read for free the content which they’re paying people to produce, eventually they are going to run into a problem. It’s also true that people who don’t have internet access, and purchase a paper every day, are liable to complain that they are being excluded; that just because other people are more technology minded or have an internet connection are able to access virtually the same content they do without paying for it.
All I can really recognize is that there is a culture in the world that the internet can tell you anything you want, whenever you need to know, wherever you are, and usually, for free. It’s for this reason that I believe such a shock comes to many people when they’re asked to pay for online content. But no matter which organizations start to charge, there are countless charities and websites out there who will still continue to provide credible journalism without a virtual price tag.
What do you think? Would you pay for online news content? Do you currently have a subscription to such a scheme? Is it worth the money? Do you use it as much as you would an actual newspaper? Do you think you get value for money? Do you think that these newspapers have the right to charge or are they wrong in doing so? Let us know what you think, leave a comment.