What Would You Pay For News?

By  |  Monday, November 16, 2009 at 8:54 am

NewspaperThe New York Times is reporting on a new survey that says that 48 percent of Americans would be willing to pay something for online news. The Times’ story begins with a tsk-tsking tone: We Yanks are less likely to say we’d pony up than people in other western countries. ¬†But a lover of ambitious news reporting–and, I hasten to add, someone with a selfish desire to see the media business continue to provide paying work–I found the figure sort of encouraging. In a world in which everybody except Wall Street Journal readers get to be happy online freeloaders, I would have guessed that considerably less than half of respondents would have had their head around the concept of paying for news.

The Times says that the survey’s respondents would pay $3 a month for online news, which means they’re tied for Australians for that place. (Italians, by contrast, would for over $7 a month.) It’s not clear just what Americans would expect for their three bucks, or whether we’re talking about a scenario in which there’s still plentiful news available for free, or one in which freebies suddenly go away and your choice is between paying or getting no online news at all.

Anyhow, let’s try a mini-replication of the survey right here. For the sake of the following question, assume that every general-interest news site in the nation suddenly builds a pay wall, and that what you’d be paying for is some sort of pass that would give you access to multiple news sources for one monthly fee.

 
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  1. AndyMaslin Says:

    I think that one missing piece here is how ads are handled in a pay-to-view model. Today I put up with multiple ads on each news page because I understand that the revenue stream to provide the free news revolves around advertisements. If I’m paying a per-month fee, I would expect no ads or else very limited ads, no pop-ups, and nothing that distracts from the news capabilities. A traditional paper has a payment model plus ads, but the ads are not found on every page; require no extra navigation; and are unobtrusive when located on the same page as news articles.

  2. Seumas Says:

    I wouldn’t pay a god damned penny, out of spite. The only way this premise would work is if they were all colluding together and that would put me off of ever paying for news in any format ever again – be it television, internet, news paper, magazine, or other.

    Besides, it would never happen. You can’t own current events and if everyone charged, one guy would make a killing by not charging and selling the flood of resulting eyeballs to advertisers.

  3. DTNick Says:

    I really depends on what I’m getting with the news, and the quality of journalism. If the quality is high and I’m getting some sort of value-add (be it more in-depth reporting, more analysis, access to A/V media and infographs, etc…), then I’d be perfectly willing to pay.

  4. T Robinson Says:

    The key is value-added content. I don’t mind paying for The Economist because of the wonderful audio edition and ridiculous breadth of coverage. Without the audio RSS feed my willingness to pay would approach 0.

  5. Jake Says:

    It’s hard to answer without knowing what the alternative is. Are the paid news sites going to be able to keep bloggers from commenting on what they report? Or are bloggers going to stop doing that because they have to pay for the material they blog about while the rest of us just read their comments for free?

    Also, I don’t want to have to pick a couple of sources and just subscribe to them to the exclusion of others. I want my $3 or $5 or $10 a month to buy me access to a collection of news sources. And I want to know how much it costs me each month, not have to keep track of micropayments. I don’t know how we get there from here.

  6. Dave Barnes Says:

    I will just shift to free services.
    Do you think that the Times of India is going to start charging? No.
    You will be able to find free news sources in English in just about every country in the world.

  7. KevinF Says:

    I was going to say “nothing” but then it occurred to me that I actually already pay $14.95 a month for the Wall Street Journal. I can’t bring myself to unsubscribe. So, $15 it is, I guess. Revealed preference.

  8. sfmitch Says:

    Right now, it is very difficult for me to imagine paying for news. There are SO many sources for getting it for no cash outlay.

    If and when things change (sources of free news disappear), I imagine I would roll with the punches, but the trend is most definitely going in the opposite direction.

    I used to subscribe to a bunch (over 10) of magazines and one by one, I’ve let the subscriptions lapse. There is as good (sometimes better) info available online for free – why pay?