‘Price point’ test for online news, urged by Scotsman editor

THE editor of The Scotsman has told allmediascotland of the need to identify whether there is a price people might be prepared to pay for newspaper content online.

Speaking at a conference being hosted by journalism training organisation, the National Council for the Training of Journalists, John McLellan said that paywalls around newspaper content have potential but it’s not yet clear to what extent they will succeed in generating revenue.

“I think it could be part of the answer but it’s very much the start of the process,” he said. “To really test it we will have to do a lot more work in finding what is the price point.

“We are just at the beginning of this experiment and there’ll be a lot more work to find out exactly at what point people will pay and won’t pay and how easy it is to do so. It’s not a straightforward, ‘Will you or won’t you pay?’.”

McLellan’s comments follow news this week that The Scotsman’s publishers, Johnston Press, which owns more than 300 local newspapers, will trial charges for online news.

The move means readers of three Johnston titles – the Northumberland Gazette, the Whitby Gazette and Scottish title, the Southern Reporter – will now pay £5 for a three-month online subscription.

“Obviously, we hope to find out a lot about the relationship between local people and their local newspaper and their local newspaper website,” McLellan said.

Free online content on the BBC’s website, however, is seen as an all-powerful barrier to charging for content online and McLellan admits it’s something that needs to be addressed.

“The BBC remains a huge problem in that the funding for their all-powerful website distorts the local market”, he added.

“The BBC are doing all they can to be helpful but the power of the Beeb’s brand and the fact that it will always be free at the point of use is a distorting factor in any market for information.”