New Zealand’s The National Business Review newspaper is erecting a paywall, reserving roughly 20 percent of its online material for paying guests only.

I’ve nothing in principle against charging for online content. In fact, as a journalist, I’ve a vested interest in the scheme succeeding.

My objection is practical.

First, I simply don’t believe enough customers will pay enough money to make online charging a viable proposition for all but a handful of specialist publications. The NBR is good, but it’s content isn’t unique or special enough to get away with charging.

Second, hiding the 20 percent of the best content behind a paywall, means cutting off considerably more than 20 percent of the paper’s potential traffic from advertisers.

Third, the NBR’s price is just plain wrong. The paper wants to charge $89 as a special offer and a normal rate of $149 for access to 20 percent of its content for six months. This compares with $228 (including GST) for a six month subscription to the print edition.

For that money, the NBR will chop up and munch trees, squirt ink, and post the finished product to your letter box once a week. You’ll get to see 100 percent of the printed material for as long as you wish.

On that basis, the fair price for a six month subscription to 20 percent of the content would be under $50, less postage, less printing costs, less paper. What woudl that figure be? That’s right. Around zero dollars.

So unless the online deal offers additional material or something else special, it’s hardly attractive.

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