How to Charge for Online Content

The Washington Post is looking to put up a paywall according to, uhm, The Washington Post:


The model -- known as a metered paywall -- would be similar to that used by the New York Times, which started charging for online content in March 2011 and now has nearly 600,000 digital subscribers. The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times have similar models. Home subscribers to the print edition would have unfettered access to The Post's Web site and other digital products. 

The news was reported Thursday on the Wall Street Journal's Web site, which also said that The Post would raise the price of the paper sold in newsstands. That price has increased from 25 cents to $1 over the past several years.

I read the Post online enough to say that I would pay for this. Plus I've basically come around to the idea that content providers will have to charge something. But putting yourself on the market cuts both ways, in that it rather quickly reveals what, precisely, consumers will pay for and what they won't. The Times found that opinions were as numerous as middle fingers, and thus couldn't really monetize it's columnists. It's reporting turned out to be another story.

The problem with the Post is that the paper has been so decimated that you wonder whether they still have a product they can sell. I wonder if the Post basically got it backwards--they tried to save by cutting, but in cutting damaged the product (and the brand), and now the Post is trying to get people pay a much less substantial product. It seems it would have been smarter to charge when you had something you knew you could charge for.

But there is the rub--no one knew. This wasn't a Washington Post problem. It was an industry problem. We're only slowly adopting to the idea of paying for information. They'll likely be some casualties due to the tardiness.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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