A new report by USC’s Center for the Digital Future confirms once again that online consumers aren’t willing to pay for online services. Fast Company reporter Austin Carr sites some disheartening examples of this in his article earlier this week:
“This past October, Newsday, the Long Island daily newspaper, was purchased for $650 million, and its Web site, newsday.com, was put behind a pay wall. For just $5 a week, users could gain access to the site, but after three months on the market, how many had subscribed? Thirty-five people.”
Some people may say, “Well, that’s the Long Island daily newspaper, not the Wall Street Journal or Financial Times,” but sadly, that’s not the case. Carr also notes that:
“Just last week, for instance, it was revealed that Rupert Murdoch’s London Times had gained just 15,000 paid subscribers after putting up its new pay wall. What’s more, the wall cut Web traffic by two-thirds, with some estimating it could plummet as much as 90%.”
Despite consumers’ unwillingness to pay for online services and content, a large percentage of users deeply distrust online information, according to the study. This is the one of the hardest things for me to grasp with the rapid decline of traditional journalism….consumers distrust online information, but if they’re not paying for the content, how do they expect to get reputable content that journalism has historically provided?
This certainly isn’t to say that sites that do offer free content aren’t reputable, because many of them are. But most of those sites aren’t trying to be a BusinessWeek or New York Times with hundreds of professional journalists on payroll.
When I think about if I would pay for content online, at first thought I would say no, which I know contradicts my statement above, but I also still get a print subscription to the New York Times, which includes an online subscription, so technically I’m paying for online content. Consumers are also just so used to getting content free now that the thought of having to pay for it is a turn off. But if you think about it, the Internet has only really been a mass good for 10 years – or less depending on your age – so it hasn’t been that long since most people were used to paying for a subscription – or two or three – to a reputable outlet, whether it’s a national magazine or newspaper or local one.
It’s interesting to think about how this will play out and where the industry will be another decade from now. What do you think? Would you pay for online content? How do you think the New York Times will fair with its upcoming pay wall?