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How much is news worth?

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 15th February 2010

The pay wall debate rumbles on, with Patrick Smith on Journalism.co.uk asking last week how much is an article worth?

Patrick observes that there are 100 articles on any given day in The Times and you get all of this for £1 – that’s 1p per article.

He states that this means Murdoch will need to drastically reassess per-content pricing structures if an online subscription model is to work:

“But to reach a competitive pricepoint, he and other publishers will have to massively realign the value of each piece of news and comment from its current-day, paper value of one or two pence to fractions of pence.”

Patrick’s conclusion is obvious and one that I totally subscribe to:

“In reality, the real market value of news is what people will pay and the danger is that for an entire generation of readers weaned on the free-to-air internet, that price is nothing at all…”

John Thompson at Journalism.co.uk follows up with an interesting blog post comparing the cost per article of his website with a national newspaper:

“Taking into account wages, expenses and a percentage of overall overheads (rent, bills etc), but discounting non-news-related administration, aggregation, tip of the days etc, we calculated the average cost of an article (feature, news story or blog post) to be around £37.00.

“We have no intention of erecting a paywall around our news content, but if we were to, just to recoup that expenditure we would need 370 people to pay 10p each to read each article, or 3,700 to pay 1p each. In 2009, the average number of page views per article on our blog and main site was 440 (this includes all our aggregation posts, which probably skew the figure downwards slightly) but that means at current traffic levels we would need a model of 10p per article to be paid for by 84 per cent of our current readers.

“Factoring in the much greater overheads of national newspaper publications, I would guess that the cost per article could be as much as 10 times the cost to us, perhaps around the £400 mark.”

There are many questions to be asked here: is this is an unworkable economy? Does national news justify this cost? Is this cost necessary? Is the cost/profit margin of print media just impossible?

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