With all this talk of paywalls, I was fascinated to discover just how few people are willing to pay for content online.
A survey carried out by paidContent:UK revealed that, when asked what they would do if their favourite news site began charging, 74% said they would find another, free, site. Only 5% would continue reading.
With this in mind, Robert Andrews, the editor of paidContent:UK, spoke to students about the plurality of news sources, and how newspapers are exploring different ways of generating revenue.
He spoke of the advertising boom online; how companies began “trading analogue dollars for digital pennies” as they moved into digital media.
“Online adverts are cheaper, and there is no shortage of pages on which to advertise, so there is not so high a premium on them,” he said.
Advertising in print and online are totally different worlds, and online ads boast greater efficiency. Google has cashed in on this, and Andrews explained how paid search is set to increase. “Newspapers are finding that their ad revenue has been migrating to the web because they see more return for their money there,” he said.
It is clearly an interesting time for newspapers – UK advertising dropped dramatically after the recession, to the extent that news publishers lost third of their advertising income.
£509.7 billion was wiped off the top five regional publishers’ revenue, forcing them to cut costs and, unfortunately, staff. Andrews described a “media meltdown”, pointing to the fact there are 33% less journalists nowadays.
Consequently, media outlets are experimenting with new models, trying to carve out a sustainable way of operating. Interestingly, Andrews suggested that while people are generally reluctant to pay for their content, they are more willing to pay for apps on their iPhones, and on tablets.
“The tablet allows publishers to envisage a post-print world, they can squash a paper into a tablet,” he said. Andrews even suggested the tablet could represent a “post-web world”, as people move to “editions” on the tablets instead of websites.
He did, however, argue the optimism about tablets is misplaced. Only 2% of people have a tablet, thus the market for them is still extremely small.
I was interested to learn that despite loving his iPad, Andrews still works and writes on his laptop. The iPad, it seems, is associated with leisure and consumption, a “sofa computer”, and it is largely for this reason Andrews believes it will not replace the laptop any time soon.
The media landscape is rapidly changing, and no news source has got the definitive, right answer. The paywall is just one component of the experiment, as newspapers explore different avenues. What is fascinating is the way in which people’s news consumption habits are changing, and new tools like the iPad will undoubtedly shape them.
Whether people will start paying for content remains to be seen, but clearly the traditional dependence on advertising is changing. As Andrews pointed out, “the web is wide open”, and we are starting to see attempts to develop sustainable business models within digital media.