March 28, 2010

Murdoch to Start Charging for Online Content

Rupert Murdoch's News International said Friday that the Times and The Sunday Times will become the first British newspapers to charge readers to access all online content in June.

Customers will have to pay $1.50 for one day's access and $3 for a week's subscription.

The AFP reports that both Times titles will launch new websites in early May, replacing the existing combined site, Times Online.

Two new sites will be available for a free trial period to registered customers.  Access to the digital services will be included in the seven-day subscription of the two newspapers.

News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks said  "At a defining moment for journalism, this is a crucial step towards making the business of news an economically exciting proposition."

"We are proud of our journalism and unashamed to say that we believe it has value. This is just the start. The Times and The Sunday Times are the first of our four titles in the UK to move to this new approach."

News International also owns The Sun tabloid and Sunday tabloid News of the World. News International is a division of Murdoch's News Corporation.

Newspaper owners have been searching for a business model that will bring in profits from their websites as sales are declining and advertising has been increasingly moving to online markets.

The Financial Times already makes readers pay for some online content, while the Wall Street Journal is the only major U.S. newspaper charging readers for full access online.

The New York Times said in January that it would start charging for online content in early 2011.

Christian Science Monitor has started dispensing its daily print version in favor of a daily online edition and a weekly print version.

This decision by The Times and Sunday Times makes them the first British newspapers to charge users to read its online news content.

Murdoch said in August last year that he intended to start charging for online content from all his newspapers.  However, he acknowledged the need to make their online content distinct from other publishers.

With so much news content available for free on the Internet, some see the move as a risk.

News International has criticized the publicly funded BBC for the "chilling" size and power of its news website, saying it has an unfair advantage over newspapers.

Professor Gorge Brock, who is head of journalism at City University in London, says the move is an "experimental toe in the water," but its success could depend on whether or not the Times' competitors also started charging.

"Presumably the plan is that if it does start to work and other people swing in the same direction then prices can start to rise," he told AFP.

"What is striking about this is that they are wrapping the paywall around the entire content. My suspicion is that the majority of newspapers will still go for a mixture of paid-for and free online content."

Media consultant Steve Hewlett said there was evidence that specialist information like the Financial Times supplies could generate revenues under a paid-for online system.

"What is not clear, what no one else has yet demonstrated, is whether it is possible to do that for general news," he told BBC radio.


On the Net:

News Corp.

The Times Online