Specialist content is way forward online

There’s an argument going on regarding news organisations charging for online content. Content that was previously free. When Rupert Murdoch announced last May that he will charge for access to all of News Corporation’s newspaper websites within a year, he effectively pressed the start button on a stopwatch. Time for navel-gazing is over. We all, magazine and newspaper publishers alike, have to decide what we believe. We have to modify our products accordingly, then hold on and pray that we predicted the future correctly.

For my money, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber only got it half right when he told a Media Standards Trust event last week that “almost all news organisations will be charging for content” within a year.

I say half right because I think that while every news organisation and media brand needs to examine how it can charge online – and fast, many will find they are unable to do so. Too many such organisations simply don’t have content specialised enough to create demand or justify asking consumers to pay a premium for it.

Only media brands that provide what nobody else can will thrive. Others, dealing in general news and gossip, may find they have nothing to sell

Barber’s title has charged for online content through relatively sophisticated micro-pricing structures for several years. Subscribers number more than 100,000, up 8% year on year. Likewise, the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal has 1.06 million online paying subscribers, up from 761,000 three years ago. Why? Because the two brands provide specialist, high quality and must-read content that can’t be got easily elsewhere.

Barber and Murdoch both know how to get it right. But whether Murdoch can make it work for News Corp’s less specialised titles remains to be seen. General news, after all, is cheap. It’s a commodity.

Only media brands that provide what nobody else can will thrive. Others, dealing in general news and gossip, may find they have nothing to sell, nothing that won’t leak out somewhere else on the internet within hours.

So who else can be winners? You probably saw this coming, but B2B titles providing specialist content. We’ve nailed our colours to the mast here at Marketing Week. We provide a wealth of news, blogs and features for free at marketingweek.co.uk. But only subscribers receive the magazine and access to all areas of the website including the cover story, in-depth supplements and other benefits such as VIP invitations to more than 20 top class events and conferences throughout the year. Not all content is the same.

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