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@ FIPP: GMG, BBCWW Hopeful On Charging For Content

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imageimage As print advertising continues to slide and online slows, there’s always another way to up your revenues in the downturn: direct payments from the customer. Few British publishers have made a success of charging for online content — but a panel at the FIPP World Magazine Congress in London on Tuesday illustrated how paid content is still a burning issue…

Carolyn McCall, CEO, Guardian Media Group: Could Guardian.co.uk, or parts of it, ever go behind a paywall? It “would be fantastic” to charge for news, but BBC.co.uk’s dominance would make 100 percent pay-for all but impossible, McCall said. But she added: “Realistically, there will be some parts of your website, (such as) MediaGuardian, lots of specialist areas where we do brilliantly, where we should think about how we charge for content that is not easy to replicate.” For McCall, “it’s crazy that we do so much to put content out there but we don’t get money for it.” Previously Guardian News & Media, which is blessed to be supported by revenues from across GMG, has said a pay wall for components other than the likes of its news archive and crosswords could work against its mission to spread liberal journalism throughout the world.

John Smith, CEO, BBC Worldwide: “You can (do paid content), it’s there: look at iTunes.” BBCWW shows make two percent of all iTunes downloads, Smith said. Meanwhile, BBCWW’s Radio Times iPhone app, launched last month, is riding high in iPhone’s paid apps chart and Smith claims “good growth” for Lonely Planet‘s iPhone guides.

But Smith is less bullish on the economy: “It would be nice to think, by the autumn, we would have a recovery – but I don’t know what ‘recovery means’ … In our TV business with channels like Dave, even if ad rates recover at the rate that GDP will recover, it’ll be another 20 years before we see the same level of ads.”

Where have print publishers gone wrong in their digital strategy? McCall’s theory: “One of the mistakes is that everybody has looked to digital as the panacea for what is happening to newspapers”. She says that while the globally popular Guardian.co.uk is not profitable, some parts of the GMG empire do make sizeable digital profits, notably Trader Media in which it has a 50 percent stake and The Guardian’s classified jobs business. McCall says regional newspapers have “been hammered in terms of structure” in the last few years, and she doesn’t see a way back for many. McCall agreed with fellow panelist Bill Kerr, chairman of US magazine publisher Meredith (NYSE: MDP), that the bottoming of the ad market is due for this Autumn while 2010 will be flatter in terms of decline. More after the jump…

Disclosure: paidContent:UK’s parent company ContentNext Media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.