Rubbish week for: online newspapers

What happened

Rupert Murdoch, never one to shy away from feather-ruffling and disrupting the old guard, announced he'll begin charging for access to all his UK newspapers' websites by the end of next year.

It left Fleet Street's sites, all of which are loss-making and heavily subsidised by their print counterparts, with a potentially fate-deciding dilemma. Follow Murdoch or plough on bullishly with free content for all.

Why

Ever since newspapers went online, they have deftly danced around and away from the decaying foundations of their existence, revelling in the potential of bigger reach and ever-growing user numbers.

But with recession came the realisation millions of eyeballs doesn't necessarily equal millions of profit (or any). Advertisers' interest waned as choice broadened, bringing rate cards - and revenue models - crashing. It's become abundantly clear a CPM (Cost Per Mille - price per 1,000 page impressions) model can't sustain newspaper sites, so new revenue streams need to be identified.

Murdoch's made his bed, now the others must decide whether to share it.

Were they to blame?

It can be argued the most powerful sources of media in Britain should have had the strategic capability to see CPM ad models would have their day - but in their defence decline of the market has been rapid.

It also takes a brave man to jump first - and that's what Murdoch is. However, it doesn't necessarily mean he's right.

Yes, to a degree The FT and Wall Street Journal have proved people will pay for content, but they do provide specialised content that can't be accessed charge-free elsewhere - and neither are they runaway successes.

Sites such as The Mirror's have looked to monetise beyond just CPM through partnerships and affiliate ad models and as the web as a whole looks to solve a global problem of monetising content, those that don't follow Murdoch's tune could yet be vindicated.

How to avoid doing the same

The key lesson here is to pre-empt market changes so you're not caught floundering when change is forced upon you - and, increasingly, be very wary of CPM ad revenue models.  As a side note, if you are in a situation where all the leaders in your industry are entering a new phase together, try to lay out some ground rules collaboratively. Or alternatively, look to gain advantage where others aren't.

Smarta sympathy score

If it had just been one of these giants falling, we may have been more scornful but this is an industry-wide challenge - and where we've yet to see the full fall-out. Murdoch's competitors have some serious decisions to make that could shape the future of online news content - and for that we retain a fair degree of sympathy.

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