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Should we pay for online news?

Should we pay for online news?

News International has recently started charging for access to thetimes.co.uk and thesundaytimes.co.uk websites.

Not incomprehensible but something that certainly seems to have divided opinion.

One point of view is that the introduction of the paywall will drastically reduce visitor numbers and will hamper the websites' rankings in search engines. Certainly it is a brave move as already hoards of previous visitors are heading to the websites of other broadsheets where access to news remains free.

But what effect will this really have on News International? Will these visitors also switch allegiance when purchasing their newspapers? Will reduced visitor numbers devalue advertising on the websites of The Times and Sunday Times and actually accelerate a decline in revenues for News International?

And what of the journalists - where does this move leave them? Will they be writing for a smaller audience as readers desert for the opposition? Will jobs be at risk?

Yet with more and more consumers getting their news online, the long-term future of paid for newspapers must be under threat. So maybe this is the solution?

Surely the real danger for News International is not in establishing a paywall but is in being the first to do so. For if readers continue to switch from print to web but News International's competitors don't start to charge for online access then, surely, the hours are numbered for News International journalists and indeed The Times and Sunday Times.

Moreover, if others follow, will they adopt the same approach as News International or will they take an alternative approach, driving traffic to their sites by providing the very best online content for free whilst finding other innovative ways to drive revenues - either through added value content or higher value advertising.

As always we shall have to wait and see. But one thing is certain ­­- this marks another big change in the media landscape in the UK. And the way that consumers and competitors react to this move in the weeks and months ahead could prove key to how to how the future looks for news provision.

News International admits that they only expect to retain 10 per cent of online readers. Will that be enough?

Philip 11:08

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