That follows earlier remarks this month by new USA Today Publisher David Hunke in which he expressed regret the company didn't start by charging for its iPhone app, offered as a free download. He also said the paper hopes to expand revenue from mobile phones and portable devices such as the Kindle. Access to USA Today's main Web site will remain free.
The newspapers' mobile hopes appear slender. Mobile commerce is still in its infancy and subscribers so far are still only paying for things like games and ringtones. And if the Times and USA Today start charging subscriptions for their respective iPhone apps, downloads will dry up quickly. Charging for mobile access will be especially difficult if newspapers continue to also offer free access to their Web sites.
That's not mention competition from news aggregation sites or apps via mobile. Ray Richmond of The Wrap this week pointed to News Fuse USA -- a 99 cent iPhone app that includes content from 27 news sources including the Times, USA Today, CNN, the BBC and the Associated Press -- as the kiss of death for print journalism. "Would I pay 20 bucks a month for News Fuse? Maybe. Would anybody else? I doubt it," he concludes.
Even if the Times and USA Today pulled out of something like News Fuse to charge separately for their content, there would still be 25 other high profile news outlets for readers to choose from. For 99 cents. Newspapers should expand their mobile offerings and experiment with different business models in the process. But they shouldn't expect the mobile frontier will be the promised land for paid content after failing to charge for subscriptions online.