While newspapers painfully mull charging online, it’s worth noting that, in print, publishers have no qualms about asking readers for more and more money. In the latest example, The Guardian will bump itself up by another £0.10 from next Monday.
We looked back on eight years of cover price patterns, and found all bar The Sun and Daily Star making routine calls on readers’ wallets as advertising income dries up. And while the tabloids discounted themselves, “qualities” and the business-bible Financial Times put higher and higher prices on themselves.
In other words, while the high end considered itself unique, the papers with the most abundant, celebrity and mass market content have been content to build and maintain their readership at low prices.
But for those looking for online revenues, the same rules don’t always apply. Sun Online or Mail Online could try to undercut the market — but though The Sun sells ten times as many print copies than The Guardian on average, the two publishers’ sites are far more evenly matched on 25 million and 26 million unique users in July respectively, so there’s no numerical advantage.
Times Online and Guardian.co.uk may have stickier, niche content compared to the popular titles, news and multimedia content people might actually pay for – but they could struggle to replicate their premium pricing in the face of cheaper and free competition leading to a much more modest and competitive strategy.
Paradoxically, if and when proprietors such as Rupert Murdoch decide to put all their sites behind pay walls, it could have the opposite intended effect of sending more people into their newsagents: why sign up to a month or year’s subscription to SundayTimes.co.uk when you can skip the hassle and buy a mountain of newsprint for just £2 — still less than the price of a designer coffee, as news executives like to point out.
Disclosure: Our publisher ContentNext is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.