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Media experts debate about paid subscriptions

By Xie Jingwei | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2013-04-19 17:20

In a matchup between the print and online versions of newspapers, signs of the Internet's ascendancy are growing stronger while traditional media's revenue is on the decline, along with their shrinking readership. The world's mainstream media companies have felt the urgency to respond to the changing landscape.

Whether to charge for online content to make up for losses in print became a hot topic at the World Journalists Conference held in Seoul, capital of the Republic of Korea. About 110 reporters from 74 countries are taking part in the eight-day event which started on April 15 to discuss the future of global communication and journalism.

Media experts have divided perspectives on paid subscriptions for online content.

Some are quite optimistic, arguing that "many people now realized that reliable news is indeed a product with value produced by professional journalists," Jonathan Walter Manthorpe, an international affairs columnist from Canada's Vancouver Sun, said at the conference.

"People, especially young, are no longer as hesitant about buying on the Internet as their parents," said Manthorpe, quoting that some industry analysts believe that by the yearend Canadian media will have a standard paywall system.

Tobias Kaiser from German paper Die Welt echoed Manthorpe's views.

"Die Welt was the first major news portal in Germany to introduce paid subscriptions and a paywall and so far it seems that online users are indeed willing to pay for high quality digital journalism," said Kaiser, without giving an exact number for Die Welt's paid subscription revenue.

However, some participants are skeptical.

Korean news organizations have begun to explore paywall models but users' dependence on portals in the country is very solid, which makes monetizing digital content on a newspaper's website unlikely, said Kang Kyoung-min, a new media strategist for the Chosunllbo Daily in the ROK.

Judith Soal from the UK's Guardian told the audience that the newspaper's website increased its global readership considerably by keeping the content as open as possible.

Although she admitted the business model remains unproven, she believed that the free strategy will prove itself in the long run.

There have also been some neutral voices. Floris Harm, who works for The Netherlands's broadcast news provider NOS news, suggests that all mainstream media should unite to implement a charging system for their online content, but the fee should be very low.

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