Recently, we looked at how introducing the use of a paywall is becoming an increasingly popular choice for online newspapers in their attempts to cover the costs of running their newsroom. However, not all newsbrands agree with this shift, with plenty refusing to charge an unwilling audience for online news content they could find for free elsewhere.

 

The recent YouGov study looking at expert opinions on the future of online journalism, revealed that a mere 8% of UK consumers are in favour of paid-for news content. An unsurprising figure given that the overriding majority of content served by paid-for news sites is being reproduced (several times over) by competing news brands/aggregators, bloggers and social media sharers for free.

 

David Higgerson, digital publishing director at Trinity Mirror, argues that newspapers are not producing content that appeals to the audience and this is where the real problem lies. He proposes the concept of “paywall blinkers” suggesting that regardless of the format in which news in being delivered, it is the content that the audience does not regard valuable enough to purchase. Commenting on paywall successes such as Sun+, Simon Fox, Trinity Mirror CEO, argues that it’s not the content itself but the added extras (eg Premier League exclusives) that are encouraging subscribers.

 

Andrew Miller, CEO of the Guardian, a newsbrand that leads the anti-paywall charge, argues that the internet is an open environment and the Guardian’s online offering pays tribute to this. He discusses the power of sharing in building a global audience and claims that the accessibility of their content is what got them the Edward Snowden story in 2013. Of course their ethics are backed up by a solid business plan, otherwise it wouldn’t work, right?

 

Whilst you can’t knock the open values that the Guardian stands on and the critical attitude presented by TMG, the fact remains that both groups are losing money hand over fist. A huge, engaged audience is all well and good, but it needs data and advertising to step up to the plate.

 

Anti-paywall newsbrands argue that the industry needs to become more creative when considering methods of monetising through online news sites. Simon Fox boldly suggests that offering high-paying brands far-reaching advertising space is a sustainable alternative to charging for content. He advocates the use of native advertising (which is just about as controversial a subject as paywalls – and frequently used in print and behind paywalls too!). Fox makes reference to the successful collaboration between Guardian Labs and Unilever. Furthermore, he discusses the function of programmatic trading in increasing advertising revenue. Rebecca Mahony, CMO of Ebuzzing, says we need to stop looking to print newspapers as inspiration for online advertising and instead consider video advertising as the most effective media platform for news sites.

 

Whether it’s through paywalls, effective use of media space or being able to draw in huge audiences, the fact remains that, to date, not one online newsbrand has successfully exhibited the ideal profit-guaranteed business structure – one that will replicate the massive audience/value for advertisers that traditional print guaranteed throughout most of the 20th century. The industry is in a state of flux, with different methods of extracting value from customers and media space all jostling. The only thing we can say for certain is that there won’t be a single way forward and that journalism, advertisers and consumers alike will probably benefit from a variety of answers as news continues to adapt to the digital world.