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Zeitgeist Doesn't Pay The Bills

Here's a Times story that Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is unlikely to miss. Among regular Internet users in the United States, nearly half -- or 48% -- would pay to read news online, including mobile devices, according to a new study by the Boston Consulting Group. Sure, we tied with Britain for the lowest figure among the nine Western countries where Boston Consulting commissioned surveys, but the number still flies in the face of those who insist that U.S. consumers are so over paid content.

The Times, which nixed its subscription service TimesSelect at the end of 2007, is presently reexamining the merits of paid content. "We've been going back and forth on this project for a number of years," Martin Nisenholtz, SVP of digital operations at The New York Times Company, said at OMMA Global in September. "We're taking a look at it again."

Echoing similar remarks by News Corp.'s chief digital officer Jon Miller, Nisenholtz said "a dual business is just a better business; it just is."

Along with News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch recently declaring war on free ad-supported content online, Nisenholtz noted in September that there is "potentially a zeitgeist change going on," as "people realize that they might have to pay for some of this stuff in the future."

Likewise, writes MediaMemo's Peter Kafka, "The new conventional wisdom is that sooner or later, consumers are going to have to start paying for some of the stuff they're currently getting for free on the Web." To keep things interesting, he then references recent Forrester Research data, which shows that only 20% of U.S. consumers would ever again be willing to pay for news and editorial content, adding, "My money's on the Forrester number, or one that's even lower ... My gut says that people love consuming news, but only in the broadest sense."

How much are Americans willing to pay for online fare? About $3, on average, according to Boston Consulting -- tied with Australia for the lowest figure, and less than half the $7 average for Italians.

Why are Americans so stingy compared to the rest of the world? "Consumer willingness and intent to pay is related to the availability of a rich amount of free content," John Rose, a senior partner and head of Boston Consulting's global media practice tells the Times. "There is more, better, richer free in the United States than anywhere else."

It's no wonder, then, that the self-proclaimed pied piper of paid content, Rupert Murdoch, isn't satisfied with attaching fees to his own company's content, but has also taken it upon himself to lead the broader media industry behind one great pay wall

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