Should online news be free? The UKFast round table debate with mark garner for planet confidential, nick jaspan for how-do, richard turner of the bbc, karen webber of adfero, stuart anderson of en magazine and lawrence jones and jonathan bowers for ukfast.
Developing a community was identified as a key way to monetise news online at UKFast’s latest round table. With Rupert Murdoch expected to begin charging for access to News Corporation’s newspaper websites within a year, inspiring trust among an established readership was believed to guarantee visitors would return once pay walls had been erected. With the BBC already an established source of free online news, offering specialised, niche content was also identified by the panel as a way to encourage readers to pay for information online.
News Corporation Encouraged to Offer Niche Content
Providing niche content will encourage readers to bypass pay walls according to an online news round table debate.
With the BBC’s proposed iPhone application regarded as the latest threat to commercial news providers, offering specialised content is the only way to monetise online according to the North West’s media community.
Karen Webber of DirectNews at Adfero said, “I think internet users are becoming increasingly sophisticated with knowing what they want from the internet, what kind of content they are after, how to get to that content and finally knowing what they like when they get there, and if they don�t like something they will vote with their feet.”
“I think when it comes to content on the internet people are all about me, so they want to read about their particular interests and have a community of people where they can discuss things relevant to them. I think that is where people will be willing to pay for content, when it is niche and authoritative.”
With Google, Bing and Yahoo joining the BBC as free news providers, the panel concurred that Rupert Murdoch’s plans to charge for News Corporation’s online content would spark a growing number of independent sites looking to challenge this.
Lawrence Jones, MD of UKFast, said, “If you try to drive traffic to a particular channel you will encourage people to develop software which will scrape the news from everywhere. They’ll simply subscribe to these particular news sites and give it to everyone for free anyway.”
Nick Jaspan, publisher of How-Do, added, “I think Rupert Murdoch is fighting a battle as just because News International may take their stuff offline the BBC will still be there. It therefore comes down to will people pay to read Rod Liddle and the other columnists?”
Supporting the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times’ successful online subscription models, developing a concentrated community was also identified as a way to strengthen online offerings. In addition to being able to provide more tailored content to readers, it was also expected to offer advertisers a more captive audience.
Stuart Anderson, editor of EN Magazine, issued a stark warning to niche websites however to make sure that in this growing climate advertising doesn’t begin to dictate editorial.
He said, “Assuming that mass news cannot be sold on a subscription basis online and we have to rely on advertising it raises the question of the independence of news. While there are some outlets that are funded largely by advertising that manage to retain their independence there are an awful lot that don’t, and it is one thing when that is trade news but it is another when this is stuff of national import.
“I think that the challenge that we all face is how not to become parroters of PR and very little else.”
The round table discussions are held in association with UKFast with the aim of uniting business leaders to share advice and provide a wealth of ideas for other developing companies. Additional panellists included Mark Garner, publisher of Planet Confidential, and Richard Turner of BBC Manchester.
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