Charging for content

How can a news organization make real money online? The answer may be the key to survival for many mainstream news outlets, but nobody’s really found the magic formula yet.  Most sites depend on advertising, which does bring in revenue but not enough to support a newsroom.

The Wall Street Journal is the only major newspaper that’s successfully employed a subscription model online. The New York Times tried it for a while for some content but eventually dropped its “Times Select” plan.  Now, executive editor Bill Keller says the idea of charging for content is back on the table.

In an online response to readers’ questions, Keller says the Times is engaged in a “lively, deadly serious” discussion about ways to make consumers pay for what the newspaper produces.  Among the options: Reviving a subscription model, a micro-payment model, and a fee for downloading the paper to new reading devices like Amazon’s Kindle.

Time Magazine’s Walter Isaacson has also weighed in on the need for a new business model.  But Mark Potts calls all of this discussion ridiculous, reflecting “gross naivete.”

Whatever the model of the future turns out to be, we’ve definitely come a long way since KRON-TV aired this report back in 1981: