The Home of the Not-So-Free

There has been a lot of buzz this week about the institution of a pay-for-content scheme for newspaper Web sites.

Several unnamed papers have signed with Journalism Online to help them come up with a plan to charge for content. (Also in the news, Journalism Online will be charging a 20 percent commission for new subscribers.)

Most notable this week was the move by Google to throw its hat into the ring. The search engine giant wants to help newspapers craft a micropayment plan. Microsoft, IBM and others are also joining in the effort.

My favorite ironic observation from this new alliance:

“…Google Inc. — a company some newspapers blame for helping dig their financial hole — responded to a request by the Newspaper Association of America for proposals on ways to easily charge for news on the Web.” — Andrew Vanacore, AP Business Writer

We keep coming back to this micropayments thing. Google has proposed a method similar to its Google Checkout arrangement, so readers don’t have to keep logging in and out to purchase content.

Still, I am perplexed regarding how this will work. I wonder how much money I would be willing to pay per story, and I don’t think its much. I would, however, pay for an entire newspaper, which is, admittedly, an antiquated practice in this day and age of search engines, but it’s still how much of the newspaper reading population does it.

I think The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune has the right idea. They are inching into the waters of the pay plan by charging for their most prized content: Vikings coverage.

Now, we journalists don’t like to admit it, but sports coverage is the bread and butter of the newspaper. It is the most-read content, and it attracts the highest paying advertisers. It makes PERFECT sense to test readers’ devotion to and need for newspaper content by charging for select sports pieces.

Other newspapers should follow the Star Tribune’s lead and wade into this pay plan slowly. If you pull the rug out from under the readers, they will be indignant, and it will be a LONG time before their desire to read the newspaper overrides their disdain for change.


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