Pay walls: a possible future for online journalism?

So, I was thinking that it was about time that I blogged about one of the most talked about issues rocking the journalism world at the moment.

Pay walls.

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch is at the forefront of the discussion. Murdoch has announced that all of the News Corporation websites will appear behind a pay wall. This means that readers will have to pay to view content online from newspapers such as The Times and The Sun.

Hidden away: pay walls will restrict what can be read for free

This move has come in part because Murdoch has accused news aggregators of theft. He is unhappy with the way that, for example, Google provides access to newspaper articles written by his company.

Now I don’t want to come outright and say whether it is a good idea or not because it is a complex issue which I am still trying to understand. However, in the words of Joanna Geary, I’m going to write something now anyway because it is on my mind.

I want to discuss whether it can work, because I think that in certain cases it could.

If you want to read a printed newspaper then you have to pay for it, so why should it be any different if you want to read a newspaper online?

Rob Andrews, editor of the UK branch of PaidContent, suggested to us that some newspapers and titles will be able to charge for content because they are written for a specialised market.

Certain newspapers, like Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal which already charges for content, are written for a specific market. They provide factual and reliable information from industry experts which readers can trust. They report key issues which readers would have difficulty finding elsewhere.

It is quality content which I’m sure they would be willing to pay for.

Whether other, more generalised newspapers like tabloids would be able to charge for content I’m not sure.

Especially because results from a Harris Poll survey carried out in partnership with PaidContent found that 74% of people would find news elsewhere if their favourite news website started charging for content. Only 5% said they would pay and carry on reading.

Regardless of what kind of newspaper it is, I think that if a newspaper website does intend to charge for content, then there definitely needs to be big improvements in their design and usability. Consumers need to know that what they’re paying for is worth it.

I think that is a key point in whether pay walls will be a success or not – consumers need to trust the website to bring them content which is worth paying for. Perhaps that is another issue to look at: if people are willing to buy printed newspapers but not pay for online content, is that because they think that news online is worse?

After taking the online journalism module this term, I strongly beg to differ. Online journalism is just as good, if not better, than printed journalism. For one, online content is able to provide audio and video to add extra depth to a story.

Going back to my original point though, I believe pay walls will only be a success if the content is trusted to be worth paying for.


Interesting articles regarding charging for content: allmediascotland, The Guardian, The TimesEconsultancy blog and The Telegraph.

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