Could thelondonpaper's closure herald the end of free?

News London freesheet thelondonpaper is to close may be pleasing for embattled Londoners for whom dodging surly vendors has become an unwelcome part of the daily routine – but Smarta suspects this may also be the beginning of a more meaningful trend.

The announcement came yesterday, just weeks after media magnate Rupert Murdoch, chairman and founder of News Corp, the company which publishes the freesheet, was quoted saying he is planning to start charging for his papers’ online content.

"Quality journalism is not cheap," he told reporters at the beginning of August. "The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free."

The news the paper, which is supported entirely by advertising, is to close was not entirely unexpected: even before the recession, it wasn’t exactly winning the battle of the London freesheets. In June 2008, the paper reported a pre-tax loss of £12.9m, while News Corp itself saw its profits tumble by £2bn in the year to June.

While a freemium model – one which offers a certain amount of free content, then asks users to pay for more – seems the most logical direction for Murdoch to take his online offerings, it’s not without its problems: persuading consumers to pay for content which they once got for free may pose its own problems.

That said, there’s a definite rise in the number of websites expecting their customers to pay. A couple of years ago, the web was becoming more abundant and consumers’ expectations for free online content was beginning to rise, so it seemed logical to use an ad-supported model.

Sadly for consumers, though, it looks as though that experiment didn’t work, which means only one thing: time to dust off your credit card.

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