Just 5% of readers will pay for online news – survey claims

To pay or not to pay?

Once Rupert Murdoch follows through with his plan to charge for access to content on all the websites in his News Corp empire – including the Sun, Times and the soon-to-be-launched Sunday Times website – that’s the question all online news readers will be toying with.

Or perhaps not if the research Paid Content commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct is to be believed.

PC asked Harris to examine the public’s attitudes to paid-for online news content. The results were pretty damning.

If Rupert Murdoch thinks readers will pay to read his websites, maybe he should think again. Exclusive research commissioned by from Harris Interactive shows that most readers would run a mile.

Harris asked 1,188 people in the UK whether they would be prepared to pay for online news content.

The harsh reality was that 74 per cent of those surveyed said if their favourite news service started charging to access content online they would switch to a free alternative. Hardly an unexpected figure.

Just five per cent said they would pay to continue reading.

It’s an assessment that fits neatly with several previous failed attempts by major newspaper groups to get online readers to cough-up for access to content. It also fits neatly with comments made by Google boss Eric Schmidt last week – via video link – to the RTS Convention in which he poured cold water on Murdoch’s plan to charge for access to content.

Schmidt said: “A couple of the properties that News Corp produces, including the Wall Street Journal, are already behind a paywall and that is a model that worked for them. In general these models have not worked for general public consumption.

“There are enough free sources that the marginal value of paying is not justified based on the incremental value of the quality available.”

“I think it’s unlikely that you will be able to do it for all kinds of news, there are simply too many news sources there are too many ways of getting news with advertising supported models to support a paywall model.”

However, Schmidt went on to say paywalls could work in niche and specialist markets as alternative sources were not so readily available. It gets one thinking about the FT and its idea to revolutionise the online news culture by considering the introduction of a ‘pay-per-article’system inspired by the Apple iTunes store model?

But novel charging mechanisms aren’t just the preserve of the FT.

The Racing Post has revealed that it is approaching 10,000 paid subscribers for its website.

In July, Racing Post launched an enhanced online offering for members willing to pay £7.50 a month (equivalent to 25p a day). Some 3,000 signed up in the first week and membership is now approaching five figures. Some are prepared to pay more. Other packages include a premium tipping service for £9.50 a month, a package that offers live online racing from the satellite subscription channel Racing UK (£7.50) or an all buzzers and bells “Ultimate Membership” for £199.95 a year. More than a quarter of subscribers have chosen this ultimate package.

Alan Byrne, Racing Post chief executive, told the Independent the secret of charging for premium content was to keep these various offerings distinct.

“Having moved to a situation of charging for some premium content we absolutely have to deliver a top class service.”

But do all niche sites have this potential? Now some research on what content people would be prepared to pay for might come in handy…

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