Google chief questions viability of paid-for online news

LONDON - Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, has claimed that online news publishers would find it difficult to charge for anything other than niche content.

Speaking via videolink to the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge yesterday, Schmidt touched on moves by news organisations to reverse their long-term strategy of giving away content free in order to build big audiences attractive to advertisers.

News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch has become one of the biggest proponents of the change and has openly discussed plans for all his online properties, which include TheSun.co.uk and TimesOnline.co.uk, to charge for access from the middle of next year.

But Schmidt questioned the wisdom of doing so by pointing towards the plethora of free sources of news available online.

Schmidt, in comments reported by Reuters, said: "In general, these models have not worked for general public consumption because there are enough free sources that the marginal value of paying is not justified based on the incremental value of quantity.

"So my guess is for niche and specialist markets...it will be possible to do it but I think that it is unlikely that you will be able to do it for all news."

Schmidt was speaking on the same day that political magazine The Spectator introduced a partial paywall.

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