Friday, May 15, 2009

No more "free" content from newspapers?


MediaNews Group, publisher of 54 daily newspapers including The Denver Post and the Detroit News, is making a major change to its business model and will begin charging for its newspaper content online.

The company has not yet revealed exactly what its strategy will be for charging for newspaper content. Rather, a memo to MediaNews staff (via Brand Republic) said that the group will begin to move away from making all newspaper content free online and will instead “explore a variety of premium offerings that apply real value to our print content.”

MediaNews hopes to convince readers that the print and online product has “real value;” if non-subscribers want to access online content, they will have to register and/or pay. “To be clear, the brand value proposition to the consumer is that the newspaper is a product, whether in print or online, which must be paid for,” the memo reads.

The company also plans to publish different content online and to distinguish it from its newspaper content, in order to reach a younger online audience. “Obviously, our sites must draw upon the content of the newspaper, but the presentation of that content will be different,” according to the memo.

The news follows the recent announcement by News Corp. that it will begin charging for individual articles and premium subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal website this year. Non-subscribers will be charged fees to read single articles. Other News Corp. newspapers will begin charging for content within the next year.

“We are now in the midst of an epochal debate over the value of content and it is clear to many newspapers that the current model is malfunctioning,” News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said during an earnings call last week. Murdoch said (via CNN) that the current free access business model favored by most content providers is flawed. “We have been at the forefront of that debate and you can confidently presume that we are leading the way in finding a model that maximizes revenues in return for our shareholders… The current days of the internet will soon be over.”

The New York Times Co., too, is “exploring a new online financial strategy,” Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told shareholders last month.

Sulzberger suggested the Times would once again look at trying to charge for its content.

Newspapers across the country are facing bankruptcy and closures, and publishers are struggling to modify their business models in a way that will bring in enough additional revenue to survive and thrive. Zenith Optimedia predicts that newspaper ad revenue will fall 12% this year.

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