The paradox for Business Standard newspaper – to charge or remain free

It is interesting how newspapers especially pick ones look at all possible information on changes in strategy of a company. Anything done in an opaque manner is not seen kindly by them. However, they just remain mum on changes in their own strategy. There is hardly any discussion about the business of their peer group.

Business Standard has always been a very clean and neatly organised paper. It is unlike the more popular Economic Times which is all over the place. I also discovered couple of years ago about its daily e-newsletter. It would summarise today’s paper in a superb way. One has subscribed to quite a few of such newspaper etc updates, but Business Standard was easily the best.

Just like its newspaper it had maximised the information in a minimum capsule. I was not alone in this, see some comments here as well. Needless to say, some of these pieces became a constant fodder for this blog as well.

And suddenly it has begun to charge for its editorials. There was no information or anything. Just one fine day you realise that some 7-8 links of the e-newsletter have begun to be charged.

Even more puzzling is the fact that newspaper expects people to pay nearly the same price for reading these few articles (Rs 149 per month) as one would pay for subscribing the physical paper on a monthly basis. One does not understand this pricing bit as well.

This also leads to further complications for bloggers. They can not link to BS editorials anymore, as readers will not be able to read the articles unless they have paid for the same. It takes BS editiorials out of circulation on the internet, a kind of unintended consequences of this move.

Economic times for instance does not charge as of now but restricts one from copying the content freely from the article. So one can only provide the link and others can read the article freely.

Obviously all these issues raise the central dilemma- Should newspapers charge internet editions or keep them free? Newspapers anyways has been a highly subsidised product with most costs being met from advertisements. Here the deal always has been more circulation so people read stuff. So the newspapers are priced very low. The companies advertise based on the circulation helping the newspaper meet its costs and also make profits.

This economics kind of fails on internet. On internet, the philosophy has been to keep things free. People hate to pay. In newspapers case, it is even more problematic. If one starts to charge people start to migrate to other free mediums. There are always plenty of good ones which fill in the void more or less easily. This charging will push people to read online editions of ET/Financial Express/Mint etc. This reduces the circulation of articles, something which defeats the entire purpose of being a newspaper.

One hardly sees internet community ever link articles of Financial Times/WSJ anymore unless they are free. With so much of stuff already available, one hardly feels left out of global business news. Now no body cares. Just open  your computer and the whole world opens to you.

How will all this pan out? These pink papers who spend so much time introspecting on other industries, should also do the same on their own industry. Things look far more challenging here than it does for other industries. The monopoly/oligopoly of all these newspapers is being challenged severely by a large internet community which is writing good content for free.

What is the way out of this?

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