@ FOBM: Could A Recession Bring Back The Idea Of Charging For Content?

Economist.com took a pass on the free-content phenomenon first time around – now, just as flares and yo-yos came back in to fashion, the publisher sees pay walls regaining popularity in an advertising downturn.

The news mag’s site already charges for stories over a year old and, publisher Paul Rossi told our Future Of Business Media conference, that could be just the right model for a looming recession: “The growth in online advertising is slowing. Is this the return to paid content online, because advertising becomes less a driver for the business? It will be be interesting to see if paid content comes back online because the model is changing.”

The Economist already had something of a disdain for the ad-dependent alternative, vowing never to mix ads and editorial on the same print page: “We start with the premise that a reader is paying us a substantial amount of money for our magazine.” And Rossi, interviewed by our managing editor Ernie Sander, seems never to have considered web ads a truly viable paradigm anyway, saying “to be rely effective online, it has to be interuptive and disruptive” – losing points for user experience. Despite flirting with free, WSJ.com and FT.com have settled on a part-free, part-paid compromise. Economist.com, too, seems to have that base covered as we enter uncertain times.

Rossi also revealed The Economist is to launch on Amazon’s Kindle: “We need to have a Kindle strategy, which we’re working on. Watch this space.” And he refused to tell us which presidential candidate the title would be endorsing, saying that’s up to the writers but hinting: “The map of the world is largely blue – our readers have largely endorsed Obama. Except some odd places… Namibia, Angola. We’re fairly sure McCain could carry Namibia.”