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Free Or Paid?: Many Media Move In Different Directions

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Before the London Evening Standard’s switch from £0.50 to free this Monday, the free-versus-paid debate remained the media’s hot topic this weekend…

Dan Sabbagh of Times Online (which itself is about to put much of its Sunday behind a pay wall) highlights the apparent incongruity of the Standard’s odyssey, and the success of the ShortList free sports magazine, with the £5-to-£12 fee commanded by the weekend’s online-only England-Ukraine football match…

“(The Standard’s) cover price income of a miserable £10 million or so is so small that it might be worth gambling on a massive increase in advertising income by printing twice the number of copies and giving them away … (but) advertising revenues would have to increase by 40 percent to 50 percent.”

As Chris Anderson’s book Free observes, all content giveaways are merely attempts to shift the source of payment. Or, as Sabbagh more succinctly puts it: “In truth, only one theme links these different stories: every single attempt to switch business model is born out of weakness rather than strength.”

One publisher that’s not looking fondly on the paid content vogue is Independent.co.uk. Digital director Jimmy Leach writes: “Murdoch is telling Google (NSDQ: GOOG), and the whole internet that they must change. It