Another Icelandic Media Baron Bites the Dust
Wikileaks, Kaupthing and the one per cent rule

Where Murdoch leads, others follow: paid content here we go again

'One great gap separated the advocates or charging for online content from all others, and that was its lack of recognition, its lack of respectability in the eyes of the public, and even in the most advanced circles.'

Then, in April, Rupert Murdoch stepped forward and said readers dependence on free content had to change and, lo and behold, media executives from all over the place stepped forward to praise the virtues of paid content and unveil plans to start charging for online news. At least my newsreader was abuzz with news about media execs all of a sudden coming out as staunch defenders of paid content in all the markets I follow.

A bit like my newsreader has been abuzz this week, though now with reactions to Murdoch's announcement he plans to charge for all his news websites by next summer - most of them decidedly negative: he's mad, he's wrong, what on earth is he thinking, it can never work etc. I find I can't bring myself to get too excited about having that debate again (though I did love this comment by Adam and this post by Charlie Beckett ), so I'd rather just deal with the facts: it might not work, but it will happen. I think Murdoch-biographer Michael Wolff says it well in his comment:

...[Rupert] is going to do the thing he has always done: buck convention, offend sensibilities, and not pussyfoot around. "I believe that if we're successful, we'll be followed fast by other media,” Murdoch said yesterday—which has pretty much been his method of operation in the media business. By force of will and clarity of position, he defines the world.

Now, take Mecom for instance. In Denmark the pan-European media group headed by one of Murdoch's former henchmen, David Montgomery, is ready to roll out a system for micro-payments on its news sites as early as 1 September. The company's Danish CEO, Lisbeth Knudsen, promised they would only charge for unique content, not for general news, but said they were hoping to develope a system for charging for online content that could also be used in other Mecom  countries (in Danish). Of course, despite everything (correct me if I'm, wrong, but I seem to recall Montgomery and Murdoch had some kind of fall out) Montgomery lists Murdoch as the businessman he admires the most, but other media companies have voiced similar plans, so I think we'll see plenty of more paid content experiments in action soon ...

Will I pay? Slightly different debate. Basically, I'm all with what Chris Anderson said here. I'd pay for content I can't live without, but mainstream news site currently offer very little I can't. News Corp., for one, has very little, if any, content that is specialist enough for me, my primary focus being the European media market. Mecom's Danish flagship, Berlingske Tidende, has a pretty decent media section, so perhaps ... if cost cuts don't limit its output more than it already has...

( Oh, and I found the opening quote here, and only made some slight edits to it, after I - struck by how vogue paid content all of a sudden became with media execs - googled "coming out" )


Good blogpost. I agree with you, and think Chris Anderson is on to something. There is only one thing that puzzles me, and that is his two last advices:

"Don’t charge for the most popular content on your site" and "content behind a pay wall should appeal to niches, the narrower the niche the better".

If you look to the Norwegian online market. What do you see here? At the moment I work in Stavanger Aftenblad. A fairly big newspaper in Norwegian terms. I'm curious to how this apply to regional newspapers like Stavanger Aftenblad, and even national newspapers like VG Nett, Dagbladet, Nettavisen and the semi-natinal newspaper Aftenposten. I don't see what niche content they deliver that is so unique. For news sites like E24, DN and ITavisen I think it's easier to "see" what is niche and what is not.

My question is: Do you think news sites written in Norwegian are able to sell niche content to groups large enough so that paid exclusive content is more profitable than the current model "more traffic, more ad income"? And, if the unique content is behind a wall and I don't care for it, doesn't that make the news site equal or worse than it's competitors - yielding less traffic also with the mix-model?

You're right. Norwegian news sites have two challenges: most don't have content that's specialist enough for me to be willing to pay for it and the language means most niches will be fairly small. That said, I'm vary of using myself and my preferences as an example as I'm very niche focused + get most of my news via RSS and Twitter.

I imagine Norwegian news sites could possible develop good niche portals for say sports, politics, business, culture (add regional in front of all those words for a regional paper), but I'm not so sure they currently have the resources to develop niche sections on these subjects that are good enough for enough people to be willing to pay for it. However, I'd also be willing to pay for community based on something I identified strongly with or was very interested in, the Jewish Chronicle (JC) is a good example. I'm not Jewish, but I think the social network they host on their news site makes total sense, maybe that, mixed with content, is another angle for creating paid for sections even on a regional news site (say for local hiking, skiing, a football team, local business, schools or other things people feel strongly about). Of course, with most of the newspaper's content only available in Pdf behind a pay wall, DN would probably argue that they are selling a successful niche product even online;-)

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