All news sites to charge something soon says Financial Times

News sites that charge users a subscription fee are the exception for now, but the editor of the Financial Times “confidently” predicts that they’ll be the rule inside 12 months. The big question: whether to charge per month or per article (or both, for that matter).
During a speech in London this week, FT editor Lionel Barber said he can “confidently predict that within the next 12 months, almost all news organizations will be charging for content” on the Web, according to the Guardian.

The only real question is “how these online payment models work and how much revenue they can generate,” a matter that’s “still up in the air,” Barber said in the Guardian piece.

The speech comes less than a week after the New York Times let slip that it’s mulling a $5-a-month online subscription fee, after years of essentially giving away all its content for free on the Web.

Indeed, “free for all” is pretty much the current policy for most online news sites, save a couple. For example, the Wall Street Journal charges readers $1.99 a week, while the Financial Times uses a “frequency model,” which lets you browse between three and 10 articles in a 30-day period (depending on whether you’re registered); after that, you’ll have to pay $3.49 a week to keep reading.

Another model that “free” online news sites might consider, according to Barber, is “article-by-article”—that is, rather than (or in addition to) charging a monthly or weekly subscription fee, users could pay, say, 49 cents (I’m grabbing that figure out of thin air) for a single story.

Personally, I like the “per-article” model—it’s a bit like a 99-cent song on iTunes, which feels almost painless (and obviously, there’s no commitment involved).

But the article-by-article method needs a couple of crucial elements to work: the right platform (how will users register—via Google, Facebook Connect, or on each individual site?), and the right price. 99 cents seems like too much, while 10 cents is probably too little for the news sites. So … 25 cents? 39 cents? 49?

So, what do you think: If newspapers start charging for their online content, would you rather get a subscription or pay-as-you-go—and if the latter, how much would you be willing to pay per story?

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