Times are changing. Even today in China there are people who, a few years ago, were laughing at the possibility of having to pay for toilet, and, who knows, maybe the next generation of worldwide netizens will consider it normal to pay for internet content.
You've probably heard about Rupert Murdoch‘s introduction of paid content for his online newspapers. Immediately after that, it was reported, for example, that The Times lost nearly 90% of its online readership, but owners are more interested in whether the change in their profits is negative or positive.
In the Slovak news, this event appeared in light version as “After payment introduction The Times web lost two thirds of readers,” ignoring the initial two thirds that were lost after the introduction of free initial mandatory registration. Another article informs that “readers of an American newspaper must pay for comments in discussions,” while in fact they had to pay a small amount once, to let the newspaper get their real identity via their credit cards.
According to a recent poll, “most Slovaks would not pay for news at internet portals.” This is not surprising. SME newspaper (present online since 1993, by the way) once established payment for their political comments, but after a while, due to readers’ ignorance, comments became free again as a “present for readers.”
One can wonder why Slovak newspapers are paying so much attention to paid news content introduced elsewhere in the world. For the more informed, it is not a surprise: something is going to happen.
Former SME editor-in-chief, 30-year-old Tomáš Bella, left his post and established his own company, where he works on introducing shared internet payment system for Slovak websites (and, in the future, those in other central European countries). He expects readers to pay 2.9 euros per month to be able to access premium content of this alliance.
“Conditions here are extremely good,” he was quoted as saying. “In such small markets as Slovakia and the Czech Republic, it is enough to be working with a few big publishers. Then the non-paying reader has no place to go. … It is similar to cable TV. If I have to think about every channel, I will have them much less… But when I think it is a small amount and I will get all for it, I do not care. … For years we have been trying to figure out how to make a payment system functional here, because there is not so much of exclusive content as, say, in the Wall Street Journal. That's why all previous independent attempts failed.”
“For psychological success,” Bella continued, “we must start with a small, symbolic price and one common package.”
[Note that currently Slovakia has one paid online publication – “.tyzden” weekly magazine – where readers only have to pay for the actual paper magazine content. To get it online, they can pay using their bank card or by SMS.]
What do Slovak netizens think about it?
I would like to pay to be able to read articles that are of good quality and valuable for me and are not covered with animated advertisement or written as a hidden advertisement for product XY. What's missing in the article is whether flash advertisements in premium content will stay or not.
One company will get monopoly access to preferences of millions readers and will know who and when was reading [an article], and for how long, and what [he or she] added to the discussion … There is just a step to improper usage of information for marketing purposes in the form of personalized advertisement.
I strongly believe this will not succeed and Bella will be out of business [soon]!
[It's] a sad reality that the only content I would like to pay on SME are discussions, because with the quality of the articles here, one can get more from discussions than from the article itself.
According to nextbig [Bella's company], there will be [paid] “added value” possibility to add comments to discussion and vote in polls. I guess this immediately will cause to appear some free of charge www.forum.sk/sme.html forum, with discussions starting with links to SME articles
[Pay] for quality content that I will not find elsewhere – why not? Already now I'm paying for access to tyzden.sk. But at the same time, I will not pay for SME. Most of their content is agency news.
They should have [introduced all these changes] a long time ago already – at least, people wouldn't be wasting their time on stupidities.
democracynow.org or therealnews.com, or mcclatchydc.com, salon.com, huffingtonpost.com – these are the sources I'm ready to pay for… Unfortunately, in Slovakia no such sites exist…