Only 5% of Britons would pay a subscription to read online news sites

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paid content.pngThe big issue in UK media at the moment is how to make money out of online content. Currently most sites rely on advertising to generate income, but it is now clear that the money from those banner and flash things just isn’t enough to fund most newspapers. Plan B, as outlined by Rupert Murdoch, is to charge readers to look at the sites. So the Sunday Times will go subscription only very soon and other newspapers may follow. There’s also talk of a micro payment system being created whereby you pay a small amount for each bit of newspaper content you read.

But will the British public cough up for something that has been free since the dawn of the web? Well according to a survey commissioned by Paid Content UK and run by Harris Interactive, apparently not

Asked if their favourite news site were to charge three quarters of people would simply switch to an alternative free news source with just five percent of readers prepared to commit to paying for the site.

The survey also concludes that younger, poorer and lower class readers are more likely to pay the subs than older, richer and posher ones. There’s a regional bias too with people in London and the south east more likely to pay a subscription than those in the north and west.

“This does not look like good news for a pay model in a competitive environment,” Andrew Freeman, Harris’ senior media research consultant told Paid Content. “As long as free alternatives exist, consumers will turn to them for their daily news information, meaning heavy losses in terms of audience figures for those that charge. “

Media for free

British consumers do have a point too, for even if every major British newspaper charges for content they will still have places to go.

The two things that will make it very tricky for media organisations to charge for content are –

1 Blogs. Walled content gardens could actually spark a renaissance in blogging, especially when coupled with tools like Posterous (which works incredibly well with Twitter), as bloggers simply cut and paste (either physically or intellectually) subscription content from media sources and publish it freely.

2 The BBC. At the time of writing the corp is still going to offer all its content for free, so readers can still access one of the world’s premium news sources for nothing. It makes paying that few quid each month to The Guardian looks a lot less appealing.

There is some debate about whether the next government will curtail the BBC’s online ambition, but this remains to be seen.

But we pay for TV…

It should be noted that many Britons who were very opposed to the idea of paying for subscription TV quite happily now pay for Sky and Virgin Media. Also 5% may sounds like s small figure, but it would generate a substantial amount of income, probably much more than the media companies are getting via advertising.

So what about you? Would you pay for The Guardian? The Mirror? Or even the Sport?

Ashley Norris