As Ian Burrell reports for The Independent, free online content from newspapers could soon be a thing of the past. Both The Daily Telegraph and The Sun have announced plans to follow the steps taken by The Times back in 2010, and begin to charge readers for access to articles on their online sites. These measures are being taken to ensure the financial viability of the publications and to protect the value of their print content, but could this actually have a more harmful effect?
After all, the Daily Mail, one of the world’s most successful websites, achieves phenomenal traffic online with a site which encourages readers to click from story to story. Its success is down wholly to its great accessibility. Similarly, The Independent and The Guardian have also embraced the world of online news; both have specific apps on Facebook that encourage Facebook users to see what their friends are reading, and to share what they have read with them. Facebook itself in fact should be the pinnacle example of how any online site can achieve success. The answer it would seem is that real online revenue lies in a) a large user-base and b) advertising. Both of course go hand in hand, and both will undoubtedly be affected by taking the decision to charge individuals for access.
The fact is people are decidedly against paying for online content, in any form. From movies to music, piracy, which was once clearly taboo, is now widespread. People are used to having news at the click of a button and, with so many sources to choose from, the mainstream media should not be too sure that their stature alone will pull readers in. In PR, one part of my working day is involved in sharing relevant news stories through our own Facebook and Twitter accounts, and those of our clients. The Times, which began to charge for access in 2010, is never among the online sources used. Put simply, by charging individual users to access content it is the publishers who will ultimately lose out. It is a mistake to underestimate the influence of online sources, and the publications that are beginning to charge are effectively removing themselves from this source of influence.