FT editor spells out how the industry can charge for content

LONDON - Financial Times editor Lionel Barber has said that the newspaper industry must charge for online content and has explained how rival news organisations can follow the FT.

In an interview for Channel 4 News, Barber, whose paper has opened up its service with more free content in recent years, said the biggest mistake the industry made in the past ten years was not to charge users.

Barber told C4 News: "We thought that as news organisations we could put our material out on aggregators like Google, attract a big audience and sell advertising on the back of it.

"In fact what we should have said is: 'No, information actually has a price -- it's valuable and therefore we should charge for it'."

He said the way forward was to follow the FT model and he argued rival news organisations could adapt to what the financial paper had done.

"In order to adapt to the FT process news organisations will need to have a unique selling proposition -- what is it that makes some news organisations special?

"We think we've been a pioneer in the way we've established a frequency model charging online," Barber said.

Barber said he believed the momentum behind a move to paid content was unstoppable although he said news organisation still had to make the case for paid content.

"I think people are beginning to change but it's up to us news providers, the content providers, to make that case. I think there is an inexorable momentum behind charging for content.

"For the simple reason, that (1), the advertising that we relied upon isn't going to come back in the same way, and (2), that everybody is simply just realising in this new internet age, that they need to actually charge for content and establish content as something valuable.

"What I would say to the competition and to the rest of the world is that it's getting late. If we move now we can assure ourselves of a prosperous future."

Barber added that the FT was looking at micro payments as a possible option like many newspapers.

The FT currently has 117,000 paying web subscribers, which represents 10% of those registered on FT.com.

It currently gives away 30 free articles a month to registered users on its site, which was something it introduced in October 2007.

Previously articles had only been available to subscribers. It introduced that move swiftly after the New York Times said it was ending subscription charges for its website and after News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch said that he was considering ending subscription charges on The Wall Street Journal.

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