Fairfax to follow Murdoch, charge for online news

Jumbled signals coming from Fairfax, but the message is clear. Australia and New Zealand’s largest publisher plans to follow Murdoch and charge for online news.

The signals are confused because on Friday, Stephen Hutcheon at the Sydney Morning Herald wrote a story about readers’ reluctance to pay for online news.

On one level Hutcheon’s Not happy, Rupert: readers say they won’t pay for online news was a dig at rival News Corporation – complete with an unflattering photograph of Rupert Murdoch. He says News’ announcement was followed by 140 reader comments – mainly from angry readers threatening to go elsewhere when charges apply.

Clearly Fairfax’s left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing because Sunday saw Tom Hyland write Fairfax, News to charge for online at The Age website. He also wrote the longer Stop the presses. Hyland had the unenviable job of quoting Fairfax chief executive Brian McCarthy who told him; “charging for online access was essential if publishers were to maintain their newsroom staff.”

You always know things are going to get tricky when a newspaper executive uses a word like ‘monetising’ and Hyland quotes McCarthy getting his teeth around that in the next paragraph. He went on to talk about a two-level model at the The Age and the The Sydney Morning Herald websites.

Of course Fairfax is no stranger to charging for online content. The company’s The Australian Financial Review has long been one of the region’s few major titles to charge readers. By all accounts the AFR’s paywall hasn’t been successful, but it will have taught the company useful lessons about turning reader clicks into money.

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