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Views from opposite sides of the newspaper pay wall

November 10, 2009 |  5:26 pm

Lots of folks are writing these days about Rupert Murdoch's recent statement that News Corp. plans to stop its newspaper stories from being indexed by Google when it throws up a more comprehensive pay wall next year. His comments came days after the American Press Institute released an intriguing report on digital business models that exposed a gap between the industry's sense of its content's value and the public's perception. Hmm, "gap" isn't exactly the right word. Make that "yawning chasm."

API and ITZBelden surveyed daily-newspaper executives in North America in August and September, reaching a total of about 7% of the publications in the U.S. and Canada. Their responses were compared with results from consumer surveys aggregated by Belden earlier this year. The comparison revealed that news execs believed their stories were more valuable and harder to replace than readers did. For example, 52% of the readers surveyed said it would be somewhat easy or very easy to find a substitute for the online content that news industry websites were providing; 68% of the executives said the opposite.

Here's the most telling table, in my opinion -- it shows just how slim the chances are that readers who can no longer find the content they want on a newspaper's website will migrate to the paper's print edition:

pay wall, Google, News Corp, Rupert Murdoch, American Press Institute, ITZBelden

Granted, the API study didn't seem to address the central issue posed by pay walls: how much, if anything, would people be willing to pay to read a story? But it did say this about the fees that newspapers charge for subscriptions to their websites:

"Respondents report a wide range of online subscription charges (from $1 to $27.50 a month), yet they report surprisingly uniform levels of uptake on subscriptions, typically 1 percent to 3 percent of print circulation -- regardless of price."

In other words, the vast majority of readers don't like the subscription model, regardless of how cheap it might be. Micropayments, anyone?

(Thanks to the Center for Media Research for putting the API report on my radar screen.)

-- Jon Healey

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