Days of free online newspaper are numbered

IT MAY that the stuff you read on the Internet is thrust upon you for free with good intentions, but without your wherewithal —otherwise you probably may not get or afford it otherwise. Thus, someone somewhere in the world – even within Rwanda – is thankful that he can read The New Times and other newspapers online free of charge.
Gitura Mwaura
Gitura Mwaura

IT MAY that the stuff you read on the Internet is thrust upon you for free with good intentions, but without your wherewithal —otherwise you probably may not get or afford it otherwise.

Thus, someone somewhere in the world – even within Rwanda – is thankful that he can read The New Times and other newspapers online free of charge.

 

There is little revenue generated from advertising online. The question, therefore, is, for how long will most newspapers online sustainably continue dishing out free content. 

 

Note that I, just like the next person, do not mind free stuff. But that it is a practical question that has been around for some years now; a question that I am sure my editors must be mulling over to increase revenue.

 

As you read this, you might want to look up a recent article on Buzzfeed, among others elsewhere: “Thank You For Using The Internet! We Regret To Inform You That Your Free Trial Has Expired.”

The days of your free online newspaper are numbered.

It was Rupert Murdoch, the international media mogul, who articulated it sometime in 2009.

He told BBC: “Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting.” 

That is true enough, but it was Apple’s iTunes music store that showed how it could be done with its launch in 2003.  

The Buzzfeed article narrates how iTunes “turned the music industry on its head, introducing the first efficient, truly appealing system for buying a digital product online. 

“Set at 99 cents a song, the low price point helped Apple sell a million songs in its first month of operation (over 50 million in its first year). But more importantly, it was a crucial first step in conditioning normal internet users to pay for media online.”

Though music can be downloaded by paying through mobile money platforms we are years behind in this part of the world; noting that only a minority in Rwanda and East Africa have a credit card, the main tool for online shopping.

The closest we are is such as with what the Kenyan Nation Media, among others, are offering through subscription. 

Instead of accessing all of the day’s news and other premium content, say, on Daily Nation, from a paywall on their website, they offer the option of delivering the day’s version of the hardcopy newspaper to your email that you download in portable document format (PDF).

Otherwise, the news and other features you will find on the Daily Nation online are fewer and do not march the variety on the newspaper bought off the street.

On its part, this paper offers most of the day’s news and features as appear on the hardcopy gratis on The New Times website, to the appreciation of the online readers.

The reality, however, is that unlike with music online, newspapers have been a hard-sell online the world over.

A Pew Centre study in the U.S. shows that of the country’s 1,380 dailies just over 450 “have digital pay plans in place or in the works.”

All told, there is one good thing about news on the Web, whether in The New Times or Daily Nation: That, on the Internet, “newspapers are live, and they can supplement their coverage with audio, video, and the invaluable resources of their vast archives.” 

There is also a downside. As one media practitioner observed, though the paid online model already exists for unique, high value and well-differentiated content, it is doubtful that it is possible for publishers to charge for general news content when the same content is given away for free by the BBC, Google News and others.

It is not about what Rupert Murdoch and the news publishers want, he pointed out. It’s about what the consumer is prepared to pay for. 

And why would you pay when you can get the same thing somewhere else for free?

The free online newspaper may be with us for a while yet.

Twitter: @gituram

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