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Lionel Barber: Paid For Content The Future

August 5, 2009

Lionel Barber, editor of the FT, yesterday made the clearest case yet for paid-for online newspaper content.

In an interview with Benjamin Cohen at Channel 4, he made it clear the FT believes its subscription model is the future, although he also cited micropayments as an end-game for newspapers.

He said: “We use a registration model.  It’s a frequency model whereby people taste FT content, and after a certain number of articles, then they register.  After registration comes subscription and we’ve got 117,000 subscribers.”

Content, he said, has value – something that has been forgotten by newspapers over the past decade: “I think there is an inexorable momentum behind charging for content, for the simple reason that, one, the advertising that we once relied upon isn’t going to come back in the same way.  And two, that everybody has simply realised that, in this new internet age, they need to actually charge for content, and establish content as something valuable.”

On micropayments, Barber does not rule out a single system for all newspapers, saying he is looking at “the micropayments issue”.  There will be organisations, he said, that can help newspapers charge per article.  Indeed there are a number of different organisations that offer a wide variety of different electronic, mobile and micropayment platforms, and one of these could be adopted by newspapers en masse.

There is a good round-up of commentary on Barber’s interview at the Fee or Free blog.

If the alternative is content being paid for by the back door, either using an ad-funded model, or even worse, by special interest groups as the Washington Post was found to be doing, then Barber has to be nudging the newspaper industry in the right direction.  What do you think?

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