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Online publishers unite to make users pay

"Users are definitely going to have to pay. The next question becomes, 'how much?"
Written by Sally Watson, Contributor

"Users are definitely going to have to pay. The next question becomes, 'how much?"

Struggling online content providers may be forced to forget their rivalry and bundle their content into all-in-one subscription packages, according to the publisher behind one of the web's few success stories. Dow Jones left the compeition standing when it decided to charge readers to access the onilne version of the Wall Street Journal from launch in 1996. Now the WSJ boasts over 600,000 subscribers paying between $29 and $59 a year. Chris Graves, senior executive at Dow Jones, believes rival publishers will be forced to bundle content to make their offerings attractive enough to tempt online users to pay. "Cable and satellite has proven to be a fine subscription marketing vehicle and they share revenue with the content providers. The service is perceived as great value - due in no small part to the bundling and tiering of the content," Graves told silicon.com. "If sites of like theme and demographics bound together with their competitors - and if they created a critical mass by not breaking from the pack to commit revenue suicide - then you might just have a way forward," he added. Several content providers have made a bid to charge for online content over the last 12 months, with varying rates of success. The Murdoch-owned Times Group is making an aggressive bid for online profitability, in the process bundling archive content from The Times with its sister publication the Sunday Times. Dow Jones has already made a leap towards bundling with the launch of Factiva.com, a joint venture with its once arch-rival, Reuters. The online information service will eventually replace Dow Jones Interactive and Reuters Business Briefing. Clare Hart, president and CEO of Factiva, said packaging content together could be an attractive option for content providers under pressure to make a profit. "The debate is becoming clearer - users are definitely going to have to pay. The next question becomes, 'how much?'" According to Hart, the piecemeal approach employed by several online publishers, where first SMS, then WAP messages and archive content gradually become paid-for, will not work with consumers. "[Providers] have got to bite the bullet and charge," she said. "Next year is going to be make or break for most companies." Tell us about your thoughts about paying for content on the web, go to our survey at http://research.silicon.com/wi/p0197620/i.asp
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