Grimshaw: No option for publishers but to charge online

Most publishers will have no option but to charge for online content, according to FT.com managing director Rob Grimshaw.

He told delegates at the Association of Online Publisher’s conference in London that the majority of online publishers would be unable to build sufficiently large audiences to support an ad-funded revenue model.

Grimshaw echoed the sentiment of Financial Times chief executive, John Ridding, who last week advocated paid-for as the only way to safeguard quality journalism.

He said: “I simply can’t see how its possible to make a pure advertising-funded model work unless you have enormous scale and really I’m talking about a billion page views plus per month.

“Maybe you could build a decent sized online business from that.”

Anything below that level, Grimshaw said, would leave publishers with “sub-scale” web businesses because of the relatively low rates commanded from online advertising.

He added: “For publishers it’s not really a question of choice, it’s a question of having to find other ways to make money. Otherwise they are going to have very small online businesses long term.

“The other thing that isn’t often talked about around this is that there is a tremendous opportunity. Producing content over the web is very, very cheap. You can reach anyone in the world for almost zero cost. Why wouldn’t you charge for it?”

The issue of charging readers for access to online content has becoming an increasing hot topic since Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp, announced in May that all of his newspaper websites – including The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and the News of the World – would charge for content by next year.

A survey of AOP members last week suggested that almost 70 per cent were looking at charging online. However, a Harris Poll last month found that just five per cent of readers would be willing to pay to access news websites.

Grimshaw said there was no question of the FT going back to giving away its content online.

The debate around whether to charge for content online was to an extent an irrelevance, he added, as businesses like the Financial Times had proved it could be done successfully.

He said: “What we have found over the years is that having a subscriber base and a direct relationship with your audience is enormously beneficial.”

‘Not just in terms of your extra revenue streams but in also your ability to understand your audience and how they behave on your site, and also to be able to market to them directly.”

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