Is paying for online news the future?
Updated on 04 August 2009
Financial Times editor Lionel Barber tells Benjamin Cohen why news organisations need to act now and charge for online content in order to save their industry.
With steadily a declining circulation and advertising revenue hit by the recession, the newspaper industry may now look to charge users for access to its website content.
Currently only one national paper - the Financial Times - charges its subscribers. But Channel 4 News has learned that others including the Sunday Times are drawing up plans to follow suit.
The editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, admitted to Benjamin Cohen that the biggest mistake the industry made in the past ten years was not to charge users.
"(The media) were seduced into believing that information was free," he said.
"We thought that as news organisations we could put our material out on aggregators like Google, attract a big audience and sell advertising on the back of it. In fact what we should have said is: 'No, information actually has a price - it's valuable and therefore we should charge for it.'"
With 117,000 paying subscribers to the FT website, Mr Barber said that he believed the business model offered the prospect of future success.
"There are lots of ways you can access financial news, through news agencies, through the likes of Bloomberg and others that don’t charge. What's key here is to establish a strong authoritive brand which is the starting point for saying you can actually charge for content. The rest follows.
"In order to adapt of the FT process news organisations will need to have a unique selling proposition - what is it that makes some news organisations special?
"We think we've been a pioneer in the way we've established a frequency model charging online."
And Mr Barber said he believed the online "mistake" could be reversed: "I think people are beginning to change but it's up to us news providers, the content providers, to make that case.
"I think there is an inexorable momentum behind charging for content. For the simple reason, that (1), the advertising that we relied upon isn’t going to come back in the same way, and (2), that everybody is simply just realising this new internet age, that they need to actually charge for content and establish content as something valuable.
"What I would say to the competition and to the rest of the world is that it's getting late. If we move now we can assure ourselves of a prosperous future."