The idea for this post comes from Tim Dunlop (now blogging about music here at Crikey), who asked much the same questions on Twitter. There’s a lot of talk about how news outlets will survive online; both of the major newspaper publishers in Australia have flagged that content cannot remain free. But is paywalling viable? And how should the subscription structure be set up? Online content can be divided up in a way that hard-copy newspapers could never be – where your only option at the newsagent is to buy an entire paper, online models could involve offering fine-grained subscriptions – to a section (e.g., sports), or even to a particular writer. How do readers define what they want to pay to read?

Let’s try to get some rough data to answer those questions. Here’s the scenario – assume that tomorrow the paywalls go up. Somehow, in an entirely non-anti-competitive way, every news publisher in Australia except the ABC charges for access to all content. You can’t view it at their site without paying, and aggregators (Google News, Crikey, The Punch, etc.) cannot reproduce it. If you want to read, you have to pay. What would you pay for?

Now, here are the rules for responses. Assume subscriptions are offered at a “reasonable” price – cheap enough that you can afford a few things, but at a significant enough price that you can’t go for the smorgasboard. Let’s say you can choose to subscribe to up to three “things”, where a thing can be defined any way you like (except “everything”, of course) – a newspaper, a section, a journalist/columnist, or any other category of content you can think of. Remember that we’re talking about all news content here, not just politics or the topics we tend to cover here. If you want anything from these sites, you’ll have to subscribe.

In the comments, list what you would subscribe to and say as much or as little as you’d like about why. Judging by the responses Tim received, some people are going to say “none” – if you wouldn’t pay for any content, then say so and feel free to explain what you would do instead.

I’ll hold off listing my own choices so that I don’t constrain anyone’s choices. Once we have some other comments I’ll put my list in.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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