Australian Publishers Will Keep Most Web News Free

Australia’s main newspaper publishers, News Ltd and Fairfax Media, will begin charging for some of their web content later this year, but are balancing free and paid content.

News Ltd has been intending to charge for some time, in line with News Corp.’s (NSDQ: NWS) dictate. Its bosses this week confirmed an October start date but repeated their earlier preference for a model more like its parent’s WSJ (mixed pay/free) than its The Times (all paid).

On its The Australian site, “breaking news, wire stories and ‘broad-interest’ articles will remain free to retain most of the website’s traffic and the advertising revenue which flows from it”, according to Fairfax’s rival Sydney Morning Herald.

“But to read articles, columns and specialised sections not easily found elsewhere, it will charge AUS$2.95 a week – ‘less than the price of one decaf skinny soy latte’ – or AUS$7.95 a week for combined print and online subscriptions. News will also favour its website over iPad tablet apps, from which Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) takes a 30 per cent cut, as those subscriptions will not include full website access.”

Meanwhile, Fairfax “is also expected to change the way it makes money from its websites, apps and newspapers later this year, by asking people to provide information to read some sections, pay for others, and keep its main sites free”, according to its Sydney Morning Herald.

The publisher last week unveiled iPad editions of the Herald and its The Age that are amongst the most visually rich and elegant I have yet seen, incorporating both a newspaper equivalent and the websites’ latest breaking news. They have been downloaded 75,000 times, the publisher says.

But, according to The Herald reporters: “The applications will be sponsored and free for readers until December. After that they will cost AUS$8.99 a month – the same as Fairfax’s rival News Ltd charges for The Australian application.”

Fairfax metropolitan CEO Jack Matthews: “‘You can’t charge for something on an iPad and give it away free on a desktop. And you can’t charge for something in a newspaper and give it away free on a tablet. The idea that you’re going to get the same thing free in one area and pay for it in another area is probably yesterday’s strategy.”