How can we make online news pay?

Online payment structures and the future of charging for news were the main topics of discussion at the Making Online News Pay panel discussion at the INK+BEYOND conference on Thursday, April 26.

Speakers from media and financial institutions debated the current and future strategies publications are taking to engage with consumers while still making money. Closed payment-only sites, metered content, “freemium” content, and dual site approaches were all mentioned as possible paths for the industry to take. As for the best strategy, there is no consensus.

Paywalls, the elegance (or lack thereof) of paid content strategies, the prices, the legacy of print, social media, content metering, and tablets were some of the were also covered by the panel of experts.

Wayne Parrish, COO of Postmedia, was critical of the bad press paywall strategies have received in recent years. “Over the past five to 10 years, paywalls have developed a very negative connotation and it’s not helpful to the way we need to think about the challenges that we have,” he said.

As for alternative ways to think, Parrish could only speculate.

“We are moving cautiously forward… we need to have all digital access and it has to work elegantly on the tablet and the smartphone before we’re going to move forward,” he said.

Despite speculation and a lack of concrete answers, there are examples of successful paid online business models, described Mark Medici of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Success is whatever the business model is that you’re trying to go after. I think the New York Times nailed it. They knew exactly what price point they needed to put out in the marketplace to generate the type of scale hey wanted to go after…I really like the [Boston] Globe model [as well],” said Medici.

Even while praising publications for their approaches to paid online content, Medici voiced his surprise at the lack of change in the market.

“The most interesting thing across all of the metros that have dipped their toe in this water is that no one has changed their direction yet,” he said. “Everyone’s kept the exact same model they went to market in.”

The lack of directional change could be due to the fact that people don’t know what direction to take in this emerging market.

“We’re not going to find an answer in the next hour, we probably, as an industry, will not find an answer in the next year, “ concluded moderator Sandy MacLeod from the Toronto Star.