Only 51% of pubs think pay walls will fly
The survey, which was conducted for the latest in the series of industry conferences this year studyng how to monetize the valuable content most newspapers give away for free, shows that publishers who are worried about charging for content have good reason to be concerned.
While 68% of the publishers responding to the survey said they thought readers who objected to paying for content would have a difficult time replacing the information they get from newspaper websites, 52% of polled readers said it would be either “very easy” or “somewhat easy” to do so.
These findings – and the others summarized below – are contained in an exhaustive survey by industry consultants Greg Harmon and Greg Swanson. They were hired by the American Press Institute to conduct the research for an invitation-only meeting of about three dozen industry executives being held today at a hotel in suburban Washington, DC.
The research consisted of two parts. One part was a poll sent to a selection of newspaper publishers, which was completed voluntarily by 118 papers of all sizes in all parts of the country, according to Harmon. The sentiments of more than 4,000 consumers were captured separately in online surveys at several participating papers.
While the success of launching a pay solution would seem to require a fairly broad and concerted approach among not only newspapers but also other news outlets, the survey shows little common ground among even newspapers as to how to proceed.
Although 58% of publishers said they are studying the idea of charging for content, fully 49% of newspapers reported that they have no timetable in mind for when or how they might do it. Only 10% of the respondents said they now charge for any portion of their web content.
Among the papers inclined to charge in the future, their initatives are anything but synchronized. Ten percent of papers said they are charging now, 12% say they plan to do so by the end of the year, 18% say they will do it in the first quarter of 2010, 10% say they will start charging by the end of next June and 2% said they would do something next summer or later.
Potential payment schemes range all over the map. The respondents ranked the strategies most likely to be adopted as follows:
:: 38% predict their papers will tease articles on a free home page but limit access to the full stories to people who buy a monthly subscription.
:: 28% think their papers will offer both monthly subscriptions and paid access to individual articles (the latter being known as micropayments).
:: 15% expect their papers will offer a combination of monthly subscriptions, imcropayments and all-you-can-read day passes.
:: 19% believe general news will be free but that their publications will charge for specially produced premium content.
:: 12% suggest their sites will offer free access to content during a session of limited duration but then require payment from readers when the free session expires.
:: 9% foresee the adoption of a pay-as-you-go system, where the visitor cannot buy a subscription or day pass but must pay for access to each individual story she wants to consume.
A question asking publishers why they might want to charge for content produced the predictable response that 77% are seeking to “capture new revenue opportunities.” Here is the intersting twist:
While 65% of publishers said they hoped content sales would develop a stream of revenues from new products, an even large number – 71% – said their objective is “preserving print circulation.”
In another dimension of the survey, Harmon and Swanson found a sharp disparity between the stated concerns of publishers over content piracy and their lack of attention to the issue.
While 85% of publishers said they are concerned about online publishers who use their copyrighted content without permission, only 25% said they were engaged in some sort of “active tracking” to combat copyright scofflaws.
The gap between aspiration and action may close after the Associated Press launches the new digital content-monitoring system scheduled for release in November.