Online readers: Not Ever Willing to Spend

The New York Times today has a long feature about the challenge facing news publishers with declining print revenues, and increasing numbers of free-ride online readers. How do they monetize this traffic? If they charge for online content will readers go elsewhere? Will that erode the online advertising revenues they currently have.

Of the [US] nation’s 1,456 daily newspapers, only one national paper, The Wall Street Journal, which is published by Dow Jones & Company, and about 40 small dailies charge readers to use their Web sites. Other papers charge for either online access to portions of their content or offer online subscribers additional features.

The New York Times on the Web, which is owned by The New York Times Company, has been considering charging for years and is expected to make an announcement soon about its plans. In January, The Times’s Web site had 1.4 million unique daily visitors. Its daily print circulation averaged 1,124,000 in 2004, down from its peak daily circulation of 1,176,000 in 1993.

Interestingly the article doesn’t even mention RSS, which can both circumvent those online ads or provide an opportunity to narrowcast relevant ads to individual readers based on their subscription profiles. Even a generic RSS feed can reach new audiences on their desktop and tie relevant ads to the content. It doesn’t always work of course…