Times of London Charges Online Readers, Loses 90% of Visitors

I’m picking up this story from the Guardian in England, so I won’t vouch for their numbers but even if they’re half right this should put a scare into US newspapers thinking of putting up a paywall for their content.

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The Guardian story claims that almost 90% of the Times of London online readers have abandoned the site rather than pay a fee to read the articles.

This information won’t help US newspaper publishers sleep any better as many, including the New York Times, have announced plans to charge readers to view articles online within the coming year.  Free is a stubborn thing to take back once your customers have gotten spoiled by the concept.   Not to mention the fact that so much of the content newspapers want to charge for is available free elsewhere on the Internet.

So what is a newspaper to do?   They’re losing money on the print edition and can’t seem to charge enough for online advertising to offset the cost of providing the site while also enduring the losses from the print edition.

I don’t have an answer for them but I’m concerned about the ultra fragmentation of local advertising that will take place if such stalwarts of local advertising fall by the wayside.  Will we have to find the best local blogs in every city and negotiate a banner ad buy with each one of them?  I hope not.