Newspapers want to charge, but will it cost too much?

NY Times — Can Papers End the Free Ride Online?. As mentioned earlier this year, the NY Times is considering charging for access to its site. Today’s article says the plan will be announced soon (many predictions of an April announcement). Whether to charge or not is an issues facing many newspapers, these days. Online advertising is growing and spending for other online services, such as music downloads, is growing, at a rapid rate. But newspapers that charges will lose a large amount of page views, and online advertising revenue.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for newspapers is that online readers have been conditioned to expect free news. “Most newspapers believe that if they charged for the Web, the number of users would decline to such an extent that their advertising revenues would decline more than they get from charging users,” said Gary B. Pruitt, chairman and chief executive of the McClatchy Company, which publishes The Sacramento Bee, The Star Tribune in Minneapolis and other papers, which do not charge for their Web sites.

After the NY Times piece, Ken Sands, online publisher of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., posted a good response to the story on the Online News discussion list. Susan Mernit posted his replay, including:

(w)e really have no choice but to look for a better business model. If print circulation and advertising drop significantly, there’s probably no way an increase in online revenue can make up the difference. Who’s going to pay all of the reporters and editors? Maybe those of us who are left in the future will simply aggregate and edit the news that’s provided by citizen journalists. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but you can’t say we aren’t looking…”,

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