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Tech, GP

April 9, 2011

It makes sense to pay for online access to news

I knew it would happen sooner or later.

I would begin to pay for online access to news.

As I've mentioned before, I am more or less an online news junkie. I read perhaps a dozen different newspapers online every day, and the Internet has provided the news I read for free, aside from the cost of having the Internet itself available.

Back in the summer of 2009 I wrote a column that was headlined "Paying for online news is only fair." Although newspapers, except a very few, have continued to provide "free news" to the world, I think they have a right _ if they want to _ to ask for payment for the service that they provide.

Now, in reality, most newspapers that publish news online make some money by showing advertisements with the news articles, just like they do in their paper-based distribution systems. So, it's not like they are getting absolutely nothing from their online readers.

But the amount of income from online ads has always been much less than that from ink-and-paper-based ads. And newspapers in general are not doing as well as they did in the old days. By "old days," I mean before the Internet, and "new media" changed the world.

However, the costs of providing the professional news content to fill up those newspapers has not dwindled, as has the revenue coming into the news business.

So, if we want to continue to get good quality news reports, we readers have to expect to contribute to the cause. After all, newspapers, at least the great majority of them, are businesses that have to make a profit for their owners. It's simple. No profit, no newspapers. At least, no good ones.

And remember, every time you pick up a newspaper at the newsstand, you're leaving some spare change there anyway, right?

Therefore, I have decided this: if I want to read an online paper, and if the paper asks me to support it by subscribing, and if I perceive that the value of its news is worth the amount of money that the paper asks for, then I will do it.

Of course, if all the online papers start charging, I may have to reduce my news-gobbling appetite to some degree. After all, I am an old retired guy, and money doesn't grow on trees, as they say.

And remember, I am weighing the asking price against the value I place on the product, so if the publishers get carried away with pricing, then they get zilch from me. This is an important concept for them to keep in mind. I know that although the cost of providing the content is high, the cost of Internet distribution is extremely low, compared to delivering newspapers.

After all this ruminating, I'm getting to the real point now. The New York Times, my all-time-favorite, most-respected newspaper, has begun to ask online readers to subscribe, and pay real money. Sort of. I guess. More or less. If you want to.

It may be a tentative request, but it is a legitimate request. It will let a reader see 20 stories a month for free, and if you get there via a link from another website, that's OK, too. You can still read the story. And, the front page is still free, as are section fronts.

It tried an online pay strategy a couple years ago, and backed off from it after a while. It looks like it may still be a little gun-shy from that effort.

Also, its pay wall has a lot of holes in it. Getting around it is childishly simple. I won't go into details about that here, but if you Google something like "hacking the New York Times pay wall," you will get about a quarter million links.

The gory details? The basic cost is $15 every four weeks. I think that's kind of high for an online subscription, but I'll go for it, just because it's the New York Times, which is the world's friend. Anybody else who wants me to be an online subscriber better be substantially below that.

So I ponied up my credit card, and now it will get my money. Good for it.

Hopefully, in the long run, good for me and everyone else who wants to read good news reporting, too.

Bruce Endries is former systems manager at The Daily Star. He can be reached by e-mail at techgp@thedailystar.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/techgp.

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