Charging for content?

3 minute read

There’s quite of bit of discussion in the media at the moment about the prospect of charging internet users to view news content. It seems that advertising revenue is down without much sign of recovery, and news providers feel that charging for their online content is the only sensible way forward.

The counter argument is often that charging for online content goes against the principles of the internet. I’ve got little sympathy for this – running any decent scale internet site is an expensive business, so the cost of serving thousands of news pages a second must be met, whether by the end user or not.

Of course, charging to use internet sites isn’t a new idea. One assumes it all started with pornography, but sites like eBay charge users to list their items – effectively charging to add content to their site. Here at we charge our customers to use internet pages we serve, because like eBay, those powerful internet pages allow our customers to do something they can’t do anywhere else. You can’t secure, grow and efficiently use valuable contact data on the web without paying, and you can’t market goods so effectively on other auction sites on the web. eBay provides such a huge market place that it is worth paying to use their service – there’s no viable competition.

The thing is, that there are plenty of news sources on the web. Not only is there a plethora of official news sites, there are lots of unofficial sources, such as blogs and tweets. Sure, these come with no accuracy or impartiality assurances, but official sources aren’t always up to scratch in those departments.

In my experience these unofficial sources have already become as useful as main news sites. I found out about the fire in London a few weeks ago on Twitter. A quick search for #londonfire revealed everything, including some spectacular twitpics of the flames and smoke, long before any major site even mentioned the event.

I certainly wouldn’t rule out charging for content online. Some content, such as specialist magazines with detailed articles (think enthusiast mags such as car, sport, health etc) could certainly bring in revenue, because it should offer an insight that is hard to find elsewhere.

The Financial Times already charges for some online content. It’s target audience is willing to pay for its specialist content. It will be interesting to see if a more typical audience is willing to pay for more typical news. I’m not holding my breath.