Publishers prepare for U-turn as 70% plan to charge for online content

As newspapers and magazines look to boost revenues in the recession, nearly 70 per cent will continue or plan to charge for their online content.

The prediction by the Association of Online Publishers (AOP) marks an extraordinary U-turn by the industry; just two years ago, 53 per cent of the AOP's members said they had "no plans to charge for content".

Payment for online publications has been a hot topic since Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corporation, which owns The Times and The Sun, said the newspaper model was "malfunctioning" and his titles could start charging for internet content in 2010.

The AOP survey found that those who plan to charge were looking at special reports and downloadable applications. Others saw charging for their archives and specific mobile content as potential opportunities. The websites of financial newspapers such as the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal charge for premium content, but experts are unsure the same model will be successful for mainstream news.

Several papers have been toying with introducing a micropayments system, where readers pay a couple of pence tro read each article. Respondents to AOP's most recent content-and-trends census said one in three of those charging for content would impose such a system in the next year.

Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, said it could work for specialist markets but not for all news because "there are enough free sources".

Those polled said the biggest online opportunities this year were in mobile internet operations, with 86 per cent saying they either already provided or would launch mobile sites.

Other areas of opportunity include growth of user-generated content, the growth of super-fast broadband, social networking through Twitter and Facebook, and behavioural targeting.

Yet 70 per cent still fear further falls in the economy as a threat to the industry. Half named the BBC as well as competitors and 38 per cent named Google as the biggest threat.

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