October 17, 2002
10:34 AM   Subscribe

The end of free online news is in sight according to Reuters. I think they are premature, but assuming for a moment that this is in fact the trend, what will this do to Metafilter? {More inside}
posted by BentPenguin (45 comments total)
I could envision pirated news stories being mirrored elsewhere... But who's gonna pay for multiple news subscriptions? It seems bound to fail, IMO.
posted by BentPenguin at 10:36 AM on October 17, 2002

It should certainly slow down the number of "newsfilter" type comments
posted by TedW at 10:38 AM on October 17, 2002

I'll just go back to reading newspapers and magazines at the library.

As for Metafilter...it will cut down on the Metatalk comments complaining about too many newslink FPP.
posted by ?! at 10:39 AM on October 17, 2002

Jeeez, ?!, they put the preview button there for a reason.
posted by ?! at 10:40 AM on October 17, 2002

From the article: "Only breaking news will be free one day," (Gonzalez) said.
If that's the case, not much will change, for most people.
posted by Fabulon7 at 10:42 AM on October 17, 2002

Informal information-cabals? Band together with all your friends, split the cost of subscriptions to various online news, then everyone shares usernames/passwords or sends their "assigned" email-type subscriptions to a shared email list?

That's assuming this ever even effectively happens. It seems, um, problematic to control the flow of information on the internet...
posted by Shane at 10:45 AM on October 17, 2002

Being bombarded with pop-up and other intrusive ads is not "free".
posted by 2sheets at 10:50 AM on October 17, 2002

what will it do for metafilter? only good things. metafilter is not a news site. [gasp!!!!]
posted by quonsar at 10:50 AM on October 17, 2002

I hope this isn't a surprise to most people that web sites are going to start charging for news features. The days of subsidizing money-losing online operations out of fear of losing market share are long gone. A lot of places are just looking to make payrolls now.
posted by stevefromsparks at 10:52 AM on October 17, 2002

If news stories become pay-only, people will start linking pirated copies, thus invoking cries of "NewsFilcher".
posted by madprops at 10:52 AM on October 17, 2002

From the article: "advanced peaks at magazine articles "
ON topic: Seems to me that, as Shane alluded, if our unwelcome media overlords lay their pay-to-play plan on us, shared cost will either make it reasonable to get the information you need or minimize the revenue stream for meai outlets enough that they'll realize it can't work. IMHO of course.
posted by chandy72 at 10:53 AM on October 17, 2002

oops, i meant "media outlets"...
posted by chandy72 at 10:54 AM on October 17, 2002

And advanced?

And this Reuters. Maybe the amateurs will do it better.
posted by taz at 10:55 AM on October 17, 2002

I'll tell you what I think, but it will cost you a dollar.
posted by rtimmel at 10:56 AM on October 17, 2002


"Let's tell 'em the sky is falling. That'll make a good story."

However, I do admit the trend of advertisers pulling out of the internet. For example, formerly free Delphi Forums is now pushing a three-tiered membership system, two of which cost. But you can still enjoy "basic" membership for free, just without perks like HTML use in messages. Charging everyone would have wiped out too much of their membership base...

NewsFilcher-- Hah! Better than NewsFelcher!

posted by Shane at 10:59 AM on October 17, 2002

Being bombarded with pop-up and other intrusive ads is not "free".

Neither is giving out personal info to "register" with a site. Assuming, of course, you give away your own real info... Which reminds me, Damn! I hate it when they ask me for my phone number at the local DIY or HomeDepot. I'm saying "999-999-9999" from now on...
posted by Shane at 11:03 AM on October 17, 2002

I don't know about news, but I pay for my comics online. If there is value in a service, then people will buy. I like having all my comics on one page with no ads or pop-ups.

The final determination of whether it will succeed or not is depending on how greedy the owner's of the content get. Will you want 10 subscribers paying $100 each, or 100 subscribers paying $10 each. When you have a low cost and high volume of users, it becomes easier to bring in additional customers.

It's not as though companies aren't already charging for their content. Gamespot, IGN, Salon... they charge fees. Some are more profitable than others.
posted by benjh at 11:07 AM on October 17, 2002

It is highly unlikely that all free news on the Internet will go to a paid format. Google News right now is using 4,000 sources, nearly all of them free. I am in the publishing business and have long been following this question and the paid/free trendline, and I'm convinced that basic news will remain free, despite the addition of some paid content to news sites. Paid archives have become the norm already, and paid features like crosswords have been growing, as the story says.

Some publishers are experimenting with models where access is free to subscribers to the print product and nonsubscribers must pay. For general news sites like newspapers, the problem with this is that it will generate few paying customers while killing off the potential advertising revenue which is based on the page view count, so the site still doesn't make any money.

Newspaper publishers are far better off keeping the main body of content free, maintaining online readership, and pushing the advertising side, and only charging for some premium features.

Specialty publishers have been and will continue to be a different story, from the Wall Street Journal to specialized trade, technical, scientific and academic journals. But most of them fall outside the scope of "news".
posted by beagle at 11:08 AM on October 17, 2002

I think they are premature

I don't really think so. I work for a portal that has its own news website and I see those matters discussed on a daily basis now. The free ride will end soon, indeed.
posted by falameufilho at 11:14 AM on October 17, 2002

Profit can always be found even when the free stuff remains. Salon has a considered-decent premium service while still having free news.

A better example is the AP feed. Services everywhere pay to print the AP feed, but it's free to read it from any of those sources. My college's newspaper can get any information and news it wants from AP or Reuters, but it would need to pay to referenced their content in an article.

My father who works at the New York Times explained to me that the news archive at NYT is probably their biggest profit-earner. What NYT charges for references to their countless-eon-old news archive gets them, apparently, more than subscriptions and $.50 a day ever could.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:17 AM on October 17, 2002

That said, I agree with other posters. Web news starting to charge will just make me start buying newspapers again... for less than a buck a day I can get most of the same stuff, except I can just ignore the ad instead of being forced to install software to remove it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:19 AM on October 17, 2002

Will public service organisations safeguard the future of free online news?
posted by Lleyam at 11:21 AM on October 17, 2002

will passwords to news sites be treated as though they were to porn, and coveted?
posted by moz at 11:26 AM on October 17, 2002

The other aspect is that most news sites will stay free simply because of their affiliation with their TV networks. CNN.com would never charge for their basic news content, because it would turn people to a rival- for example, FoxNews.com- which would then cause more people to watch the FoxNews network instead of CNN. That means less ratings for CNN, and less advertiser revenue, which is probably an assload more than anything subscriptions would yeild them.

The only way pay news would work is if every single network did it roughly around the same time with roughly the same rates. AOL dominated the internet and can charge whatever it wants because it started when there was little to no internet access for the average user... this is the exact opposite for news, you can get it from an unlimited amount of sources. Premium sites charge mostly for exculsive content; they won't make a dime off stuff that even a single other entity is giving away for free.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:32 AM on October 17, 2002

I don't know about news, but I pay for my comics online. If there is value in a service, then people will buy. I like having all my comics on one page with no ads or pop-ups.

Dailystrips does this for me and it doesn't cost a cent. It requires perl (Windows version here.)
posted by hilker at 11:34 AM on October 17, 2002

Whatever happened to micropayments? Anybody remember them?

Many a pundit has crashed and burned with their predictions of the death of advertising. But really, if someone figured out a secure, painless way to charge 1 cent (or whatever tiny number you choose) for me to read an article then I'd sign up.

My own issue with subscribing to (insert news site here) is mainly psychological. It's an act of faith which assumes I'll want to read a certain number of articles each year - I don't want to have to feel obligated to read a particular source merely because I paid $24.99 a year for it.
posted by jeremias at 11:39 AM on October 17, 2002

The news organizations have a responsibility to be profitable for their shareholders and employees. Responsibility to customers comes in someplace, but its pretty distant. If providing online content is damaging their bottom line then I expect that change will take place, followed by more changes.

I'm willing to pay for online content, but only if I consider it worthwhile. I feel the same way about print content. As long as National Geographic, Scientific American and the various IEEE journals I subscribe to continue to produce quality work I'll continue to pay. This doesn't mean that I'll pay for anything and everything though. I wouldn't consider paying for Discover magazine for instance, there isn't enough information density for me to consider it a worthy science publication.

I also won't pay as much for online content as I will for print content. I can look up old National Geographic articles for the past 8 years I've been a subscriber, even if I cancel my membership tomorrow. If I cancel an online membership I lose access to all past information which was accessible to me, therefore, to me it's inherently less valuable.

I think the first swipes at charging for online content will fail because they probably won't consider the above points. They'll take a look at their news stand price, ask for the same for online content and lose most of their viewers. A print magazine or newspaper is tangible, an online publication isn't. You'll then see a lot of articles saying that online media is failing since they can't retain subscribers. Eventually somebody will realize that they need to make a cost structure that the consumers consider reasonable, but chances are it won't be from the major media sources.
posted by substrate at 11:40 AM on October 17, 2002

So, a wide variety of very different onliners already offer both paid and free access (allowing them the best of both worlds):

Jane's Defence
(Defence industry news and analysis for the general public, for gov't, and for private industry)
Delphi Forums
(Online forums)
(Pollstar keeps you informed of tourdates for your fave bands, etc)

posted by Shane at 11:48 AM on October 17, 2002

"I hope this isn't a surprise to most people that web sites are going to start charging for news features."

I've been reading this exact same wording for about 6 years now. CNN.com will always be free. Always. They'll certainly add some premium services and charge for that. But headline news will always be free. Otherwise the site would just die.

The killer app for the Internet is and always will be - Free Stuff!.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:54 AM on October 17, 2002

There was an interesting article on clickz.com last week about online publishers charging. Those that have gone to pay have managed to convert between 0.4% and 0.7% of their vistors, which is an appallingly low figure. It puts some on the blame on publishers just thinking they can chuck their print copy straight on a site, but that isn't the only factor. There will also always be services like the BBC who don't charge - well, subject to the continuing agreement of the British parliament and taxpayers.
posted by kerplunk at 11:55 AM on October 17, 2002

XQ: What NYT charges for references to their countless-eon-old news archive gets them, apparently, more than subscriptions and $.50 a day ever could.

That's $.75 a day, I'll have you know! (And I'll bet they're planning to jump it to a buck...)
posted by languagehat at 11:59 AM on October 17, 2002

I always thought the general public was only willing to pay for porn online...
posted by Shane at 12:07 PM on October 17, 2002

Substrate: Agreed.

I have to admit I get no joy out of reading papers online. The only things that really work better online (than in print) are things with community interaction.

Newsprint blackens my fingers. And if it didn't, I don't think I'd feel I'd really read the paper that day.

FYI XQ: The AP even charges college papers. The paper I work at at the University of Oregon switched to KRT (Knight-Ridder Tribune) several years ago because AP subscription costs were too high. So no one escapes the wrath.

The question I have: For those breaking stories that you just have to use the internet for, I might consider paying. Not that it will ever happen, but if it does, will we have passwords sites with sneaky links that vote for the site in the top 50 news-pw haxors? And what about the even sneakier looks that promise a hacked backdoor and turn out to be a PR technique to suck you in then hit you up for cash?
posted by Happydaz at 12:13 PM on October 17, 2002

The end of free online news is nowhere in sight. For a start, there'll always be state-sponsored sources like the BBC, and as a result I'd imagine other TV/radio news sources, and possibly some newspapers, will remain free in an effort to seize some eyeballs from them.

In the unlikely event that even these start charging, I advise setting up a radio next to your computer and listening to the BBC / NPR. Sometimes the old technologies are the best ...
posted by bwerdmuller at 12:20 PM on October 17, 2002

"I advise setting up a radio next to your computer and listening to the BBC / NPR. "
I dunno. I can certainly foresee NPR taking the low road out of necessity and following any pay-for-content trend even though they're technically not for profit (bah!).
BTW, does anyone actually use Salon Premium and is it worth the leap? Seems like most of the Premium content is longer pieces that I'd have to waste precious printer paper on in order to actually enjoy reading.
posted by chandy72 at 12:24 PM on October 17, 2002

Hopefully what it'll do to MeFi is segregate the Israel/Palestine posts to LittleGreenFootballs and Indymedia, and get useless drek off of the web, so we can go back to posting random webstuff again.
posted by swerdloff at 12:43 PM on October 17, 2002

You're missing the point. The media outlets aren't charging for news to make more money. They're charging for news to lose less money or break even.
posted by stevefromsparks at 1:22 PM on October 17, 2002

They're charging for news to lose less money or break even.

But is there hidden value to having an online presence? Are news websites so expected and ubiquitous by now that the (Fill-in-the-Blanks)-Times would be naked (and missing out on advertising/name recognition) without one? Is it necessary for a major news source to offer something online, regardless of profit/no profit?
posted by Shane at 1:49 PM on October 17, 2002

Something is the key word there. They could belch out a couple of wire stories and maybe one local story. But the days of throwing everything onto the web without getting some money in return are gone.
posted by stevefromsparks at 2:38 PM on October 17, 2002

Two words: Matt Drudge.
posted by konolia at 3:31 PM on October 17, 2002

Not all online news sites losing money. I'm pretty sure The New York Times is at least breaking even online - and they are not going to limit their reach by charging for the site anytime in the near future.
posted by gspira at 3:43 PM on October 17, 2002

I will check to see if the New York Times is making money online. They're making a killing off their archives, but I think it's fair to subtract that from the formula.
The Wall Street Journal was losing lots of money on its online edition and it was even charging for it. I don't know how it's doing today.
The goal of most major newspapers is to break even with its online editions.
posted by stevefromsparks at 4:14 PM on October 17, 2002

The article's kind of misleading. Paying a media outlet for crosswords or coughing up $4.86 for a ranking of German attorneys by specialty is hardly the same as being forced to pay for daily news coverage. I honestly don't see how free news online is in any danger of disappearing.

That said, I'd consider paying Google or Yahoo! a subscription fee to be able to read news stories collected from a broad collection of major outlets. Let them figure out what's workable and see how many of us bite. If it's a fair price, they should be able to get enough folks to make money. How's emusic doing these days, anyway?
posted by mediareport at 5:45 PM on October 17, 2002

The end of free online news is in sight [...] what will this do to Metafilter?

If true, it will make news posts allowable under the guidelines ;-)
posted by walrus at 3:49 AM on October 18, 2002

Uh-oh. A letter at Media News just pointed out that the Columbus Dispatch (Ohio's relatively conservative capitol paper) cut off free Web access to its daily news as of October 1.

I think this is really stupid of the Dispatch (my former daily paper). The benefits of participating in the worldwide Web culture far outweigh any supposed damage to the bottom line from free Web access. Are there really that many local subscribers who read the paper online just to save the cost of a subscription? I seriously doubt it.
posted by mediareport at 8:19 PM on October 20, 2002

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