Monday, August 17, 2009

Information Doesn't Always Want to Be Free

The Financial Times has been charging for online access since 2002. This made it an outlier in an environment in which most other papers (The Wall Street Journal being the major exception) were giving away online access to their content. Other media executives felt that charging for content was a prescription for financial disaster. However, the decision of The Financial Times has been "vindicated" as "other publishers are starting to see wisdom in the paper's ways," according to an article in today's New York Times. The reason that newspapers are looking for ways to generate revenue from their websites is the "deep slump" in advertising; there are "few signs that advertising is rebounding." Ad revenue and subscriptions to the print versions of newspapers have declined, and other ways must be found to pay for "[q]uality journalism."

Other papers, including all those owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, are starting to add "pay walls" to their websites. The Financial Times is also experimenting with other payment models, such as a "plan to accept micropayments for individual articles, as an alternative to a subscription." I was interested to read that "the newspaper restricted access last year to its content through databases like Factiva and LexisNexis, requiring users to buy special licenses to read archived articles." This restriction doesn't affect academic subscribers, fortunately; there are, however, over 600 corporate customers. The Financial Times has carved out a niche as a source of high-quality financial information for which certain individuals and firms are willing to pay premium rates. The article questions whether general-interest, non-niche publications could successfully charge for content. When The New York Times experimented with charging for content, they got only 227,000 paying customers (compare that figure to the approximately 1,000,000 customers of The Wall Street Journal), and abandoned the initiative in 2007. "Executives of The New York Times have said they are considering ways to get readers to pay for online access, though they have yet to disclose specific plans." Speaking selfishly, if newspapers do move in the direction of paid content, I hope they will carve out an exception for academics.

No comments: