Sorrell: Media should charge for content

Media owners should not be giving so much print or digital content away for free, WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell told a Newspaper Society advertising conference today.

If readers value their content, he said, news organisations should be charging them for it.

Sorrell said: "I think media owners do not charge enough for content. I remember going up to see the Glasgow Herald in the early 90s. The Glasgow Herald was one of the first newspapers to charge for online content. I asked the editor why he did that and he explained ‘if there are Glaswegians in Buenos Aries they are willing to pay for the Glasgow Herald online rather than wait for the banana boat to deliver it.'

"I've always had a problem with free content. It goes against the grain of the Manchester Evening News issuing a free newspaper; we've got the FT doing it and Associated. I think if the consumer values the content I think you should charge him or her for it. The logic is don't do that build readership then you can charge for advertising."

He also said that media traditional media owners could not move fast enough in the current technological climate. He said something significantly better than Google will come along before many people realised.

Sorrell explained that companies need "separate verticals" to grow online.

A traditional advertising agency that had been producing 30-second television commercialswould not be able to move as  quickly as somebody who starts an online business from scratch with no history, he suggested.

"You have to have separate verticals. The people running traditional companies do not move rapidly enough. It is impossible to change a company rapidly enough in this era of technological change. Given there are 1.5 billion people in China there has got to be five or six people as clever as Sergey Brin or Larry Page and there are currently ex-Stanford graduates who will come up with a form of technology that will make what we see today obsolete. The new Googles.

"In order to cope with that you have to set up in my view separate verticals. Murdoch's doing it with MySpace, ITV is doing it with Friends Reunited. If the base business is under attack you can do some things with the base business but the people running the base business cannot move quickly enough."

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