Economist.com took a pass on the free-content phenomenon first time around – now, just as flares and yo-yos came back in to fashion, the publisher sees pay walls regaining popularity in an advertising downturn.
The news mag’s site already charges for stories over a year old and, publisher Paul Rossi told our Future Of Business Media conference, that could be just the right model for a looming recession: “The growth in online advertising is slowing. Is this the return to paid content online, because advertising becomes less a driver for the business? It will be be interesting to see if paid content comes back online because the model is changing.”
— Weathering the storm: Current economic turmoil will bring no directional shift from Rossi, who says The Economist is ideally placed to profit from dark days: “One of the things you don’t do is change your strategy. When you have a market like this, you have an opportunity, so we won’t be pulling back our marketing. It’s what we’ve been writing about for thee last 150 years; what the economy does has never been more relevant.” A big emphasis is being placed on driving US adoption.
— Kindle plans: Rossi also revealed The Economist is to launch on Amazon’s Kindle: “We need to have a Kindle strategy, which we’re working on. Watch this space.” A UK launch for Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is not yet confirmed, remember.
— The problem with ads: The Economist already had something of a disdain for the ad-dependent alternative, vowing never to mix ads and editorial on the same print page: “We start with the premise that a reader is paying us a substantial amount of money for our magazine.” And Rossi, interviewed by our managing editor Ernie Sander, seems never to have considered web ads a truly viable paradigm anyway, saying “to be rely effective online, it has to be interruptive and disruptive” – losing points for user experience. Despite flirting with free, WSJ.com and FT.com have settled on a part-free, part-paid compromise. Economist.com, too, seems to have that base covered as we enter uncertain times…