Singapore’s Straits Times and Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post are the only English language newspapers I know that do not allow their stories to be read online for free.
Even the Financial Times allows some of its stories to be read for free.
Not the Straits Times. All you can read for free on its website are wire stories, letters to the editor, readers’ comments — and, yes, its blogs. Just don’t expect to see the newspaper’s regular columnists there. You can read Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman for free, but you have to pay to read Andy Ho and Sumiko Tan.
It just goes to show the amazing strength of the Straits Times that, while virtually everyone else is giving away original content for free, it can still charge for what it has to offer.
Newspapers can allow free online access because the digital medium is so cheap, says Chris Anderson in his book, Free. It’s fascinating reading. The Wired magazine editor says why readers must pay to read his magazine but enjoy free access to the website:
“In print, I operate by the rules of scarcity, since each page is expensive and I have a limited number of them… Not only are our pages expensive, they are also unchangeable. Once the presses run, our mistakes and errors of judgment are preserved for posterity (or at least until they are recycled)…
“Online, however, pages are infinite and indefinitely changeable. It’s an abundance economy and invites a totally different management approach. On our Web site we have dozens of bloggers, many of them amateurs, who write what they want, without editing…
“Standards such as accuracy and fairness apply across the board, but in print we have to get everything right before publication, at great expense, while online we can correct as we go.”
The website costs only a fraction of the magazine business:
“We pay dollars to print, bind and mail a magazine to you… but just microcents to show it to you on our Web site. That’s why we can treat it as free, because on a user-by-user basis, it is, in fact, too cheap to meter.
“Overall, our server and bandwidth bill amounts to several thousand dollars a month. But that’s to reach millions of readers.”
Newspaper publishers are beginning to ask what’s the point of reaching millions of readers when advertisers are willing to pay for only a certain target audience.
But money alone no longer makes the world go round, as even businesses acknowledge. Why else do they make such a fuss about brand recognition?
Welcome to the attention economy. Another reason to read Free, especially if you are a blogger or interested in the media.
Anderson explains the new economy in terms any blogger or user of Facebook, Twitter or MySpace will understand: