At least two of the country’s major dailies, the San Francisco Chronicle and Newsday, are going to start charging for their online content.
The brutality continues:
Late Thursday, Tom Zucker, COO of Newsday‘s parent company Cablevision said the paper plans “to end the distribution of free Web content.” Zucker declined to specify when when Newsday will begin charging to read content on its site, and did not reveal what that pricing would be. The shift comes as ad revenue and circulation are both down at the paper: Cablevision bought Newsday for $650 million in May 2008, and was recently forced to write down Newsday‘s value by $402 million, leading to a fourth-quarter loss.
Meanwhile on the West coast…
San Francisco Chronicle parent company Hearst said Tuesday it would be forced to sell or close the paper if a series of layoffs and cost-cutting measures do not put the paper back into the black. According to former Chronicle city editor Alan Mutter, the paper’s management team revealed at emergency meetings held Wednesday that plans for the paper include the creation of “pay-per-view sections on the Web site.”
The San Francisco Chronicle also reported losses for 2008, to the tune of $50 million.
I’m not sure this will fully solve the problem of MSM figuring out what to do to boost online revenues, but, like newspaper bankruptcies, I think you’re going to see more and more of this. As Jacob Weisberg points out in this well-conceived Slate piece, newspapers are populated with basically a three schools of thought on how to address financing.
- One camp favors what the Chronicle and Newsday are doing, directly charging customers
- A second group argues for philanthropic support where newspapers would be “more like universities, with their independence underwritten by charitable endowments.”
- The third school thinks that newspapers should simply beef up their ad rates for online content, since that’s where the future is.
Weisberg’s thesis is that this debate largely misses the point that journalism, in its most traditional, serious form, has never truly been a money-making pursuit, and that newspapering has been a subsidized in one form or another since its earliest days.
I think newspapers charging for their online content was inevitable, and that a micro-subscription, iTunes-style payment system might actually work.
But no matter what the end result is, the fact is that the way newspapers do business is rapidly changing, and these shifts are likely going to claim some more victims along the way.