“Almost All” Will be Charging for Content?

First of all, the Financial Times is a true gem of a news organization and they have a really smart team of folks working on the digital side. Bottom line, I have a ton of respect for that team. There is much good insight and advice found in this interview however it is obscured by this one soundbite.

The Financial Times editor, Lionel Barber, has predicted that “almost all” news organisations will be charging for online content within a year.

[From Financial Times editor says most news websites will charge within a year | Media | guardian.co.uk]

Barber goes on to say that the big impediment is a payment mechanism (he didn’t say a micropayment system but that is pretty much what he is referring to). Sorry, the problem isn’t that people can’t pay by the article but rather that they have not demonstrated any interest or intent in a pay by the article scheme. I might do it for financial news but it’s a big maybe because it’s more likely that I’ll step up to a subscription and there simply isn’t a lot of elasticity in subscription rates and when the advertising component continue to suck wind there is little good news in the financial pictures these groups can expect.

Insofar as “almost all” news organizations doing it… well that only works if indeed almost all do it and do it pretty much in a coordinated fashion otherwise it’s a classic prisoner’s dilemma game. Why would one news group turn on a payment scheme when a competitor featuring the same content could continue offering it for free?

The odds of all the major news organizations coordinating such a move is nil because we all know these guys couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery, at least not so when it comes to monetizing their digital experience. Something has to change in online news but a pay by the article scheme simply isn’t the answer that will bring relief to a battered industry.