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Apr 14, 2009

NYT offers ideas for what readers might be persuaded to pay for online

  • Branding - can the NYT become a global brand?
  • Solving a problem - Filtered water, shifted TV viewing, luggage handling, and legal music download solves problems. What problem does subscription news solve?

Posted by Emma Heald on April 9, 2009 at 9:54 AM
In light of recent debate over whether paid online content has the potential to save the newspaper industry amidst falling ad revenue, New York Times journalists Richard Perez-Pena and Tim Arango posed the million-dollar question: how do you get consumers to pay for something they have grown used to getting for free? They cited several examples from industries that have pulled it off: Coca-Cola successfully sells filtered tap water under the name Dasani, people subscribe to premium television services such as TiVo, airlines have introduced charges for luggage and meals, and iTunes has got at least some people to pay for music. 

So what can newspapers learn from this? "All of these success stories offered the consumer something extra, even if it was just convenience," is the conclusion the NYT has come to. And indeed, the journalists point out, news organisations have been trying to persuade their readers that they can provide something more valuable than an aggregator or blog, by adding features such as e-mail alert services, high quality video or discussion forums. 
However in most cases, all these features have been added free. According to Eric J. Johnson, a professor at Columbia Business School, this is not the way to go. "Before you add something to your site, you should say that if consumers really want it, that should be part of a package that you could charge for," he said. If the readers feel they are getting something extra on top of what they had received free, they should be more willing to pay. 

If this is the case, then maybe newspapers should be looking at what features or services they could add and charge for, rather than contemplating charging for their present offering. This is just what the Wall Street Journal seems to be planning, by adding extra premium services, or what the Christian Science Monitor is doing by providing a subscription-based daily email.

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