Murdoch aims to charge for News sites within year

RUPERT Murdoch has ramped up his push to make readers pay for news online, saying News Corp will start charging for access to all its news sites across his media empire.

Seeking to counter the leakage of advertising revenues to the internet, which has hurt the traditional business model of newspapers, the 78-year-old media mogul said today he was “very hopeful we can produce significant revenues from the sale of digital newspaper content”.

“Quality journalism is not cheap,” Mr Murdoch said. “An industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting.”

He was scant on details for such business models today, which could include online subscriptions, charging fees to read single stories and selling content on new platforms such as mobile reading devices.

But he said that News Corp would start charging soon.

''We're thinking in terms of this financial year," Mr Murdoch said.

It’s been a deep change from his stance only two years ago when he maintained advertising would fund free sites.

Since then, the global advertising recession has cut swathes through the profitability of News Corp’s newspaper and free-to-air television business. The company today posted a $US3.4 billion ($4 billion) loss for the year to June.

Mr Murdoch said that the success of the company’s profitable Wall Street Journal subscription site had convinced him that readers were willing to pay for quality content on the internet.

But, contrary to industry studies advising publishers to focus lucrative niche sites with specialised content such as finance news and sport, the News Corp chief today said chargeable quality content came from all the company’s news sites including its pay TV channel Fox News and even celebrity scoops of its British tabloid paper The Sun.

In Australia, the company publishes papers including The Australian, The Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Murdoch said the company was in talks with hardware providers such as Sony about mobile devices to deliver news, unhappy with the model provided by Amazon’s Kindle reading tablet, which distributes newspaper content giving publishers part of its revenue without sharing information about its subscribers.

Newspaper publishers worldwide have started looking to online subscriptions and mobile content for new income streams as the global recession and the move of readers to the internet has hurt advertising demand and dried up their classified sales.

But not all are convinced they will be able to convince readers to pay for content they have for years been able to access for free.

Mr Murdoch seemed unperturbed being the first one to push ahead with the model, and forecast others in the industry would follow him.

“The tumultuous and unprecedented change affecting the entire media sector, particularly newspapers and the free-to-air broadcasters, cannot be ignored,” he said. “I think it will be successful and followed by other media.”

msteffens@smh.com.au

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