Monday, April 09, 2012

Free Is Not Always Better

A few weeks ago the Enquirer announced that it was going to begin to charge a subscription fee for online access to the newspaper. This announcement comes as no surprise as several newspapers around the country have either already instituted subscription policies or have one that will begin shortly. Charging for online content has been a challenge for most all traditional paper and ink publications. Few have charged a fee for their publications from the very beginning of making their content available online. The Wall Street Journal is one. Those who purchased a regular subscription to the Journal were offered complete online access to the stories and articles for an extra fee. If you didn’t pay the fee you could not read the complete articles. Most other publications were not as prescient.

According to the Enquirer, there will be a limited number of free articles that can be read online every month but to read anything beyond those articles, readers will need to buy a subscription. This is the same policy that has been adopted for the New York Times. After you read 10 articles online in a one month period you, you must pay the subscription price of about $3.75 per week to continue to read.

It will be interesting to see what success the Enquirer has in adopting this pay to read policy. I have found the paper to be less relevant with actual news content decreasing. There are some days when the paper delivered to my front door looks like an advertising flyer rather than one of Gannett’s premiere publications. I fear that few will opt to pay for it. It is a downward spiral that may not be able to be arrested.

When the Internet first made it possible to get information free from major publications many began to feel that free information was part and parcel with the new online experience. Of course this is not a sustainable model. Newspapers, news magazines and TV networks pay millions of dollars to support the reporters and bureaus worldwide. This infrastructure is necessary if factual unbiased reporting is to continue. It is also expensive. If there is no revenue generated from the service it can’t survive. For years the ink and paper subscribers to newspapers where paying not only for the paper delivered to their home, they were paying for the people reading the content free on the Internet.

The fact is that someone is going to pay for the gathering and reporting of news and information. It seems to me that a user-pay system, either directly with fees from the consumer or through advertising messages is much preferable to having some third party pay for this service. As the old adage goes, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

We are entering a new phase of access to quality online content. This will require fees and subscriptions. To me is a small price to pay for unbiased factual reporting.

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