It has become my mantra in the last year: Fellow writers, remember we own the well. If content provers want to grab themselves a bucketful, they have to pay for what’s in the bucket. So, now that newspaper websites are starting to charge for content, how do we feel?
Clearly there’s a problem, because subscription take-up has been lower than expected, andrew are following the lead set by the Times newspaper. When they started charging for their regular online presence I switched to other sites because, frankly, most of their writing wasn’t special enough for me to want to pay for it.
Good straight reportage can by found on Al-Jazeera, Guardian and Telegraph sites, and I’ll even use Auntie as a fallback if I have to. I stopped reading the Sunday Times after it became so reactionary, but there are many US sites I can’t do without because the writing is so thorough and well-researched. The best, the New York Times, is of course subscription now.
But to read the papers I read before would cost a fortune every month, so my reading habits have altered. However, when the writing is special – as it is in the New York Times – it’s much harder to do without. Could this be the way forward for subscription sites to raise their readerships? Make sure that their writing is indispensable and brilliant again?
I’ll live without the Sunday Times because I’m not interested in handbags or football or anything that Jeremy Clarkson has to say. But I’d miss Grace Dent and Charlie Brooker if the Guardian charged. And I wouldn’t last long without the New Yorker.
Content must be paid for. But there are good sites that have no print presence, like The Londonist, The Daily Beast and Salon.com.
Recently I posted about ‘Black Static’ a subscription print magazine that even its editor admits has woefully low sales figures. But there’s something deeply pleasurable about a paper magazine that reads like the part-work of a really big book. And seeing as Britain is one of the most sedentary countries in Europe, we might as well all get some more quality reading in.
So if papers think subscription is the way forward, they had better make sure they have good writers.