Will HK readers be willing to pay for online information?

March 18, 2019 10:50
As media outlets contemplate digital paywalls, the question is whether readers, long used to free information, would be willing to pay for their content. Photo: Bloomberg

Apple Daily announced recently that readers will need to register to gain access to its online version. But they will continue to enjoy free content, it said. The media group did not elaborate on its plans, but there is widespread speculation that the firm could be preparing the ground for introduction of a paywall at a later stage.

There had, in fact, been rumors last year that Apple Daily and Oriental Dail will introduce paywalls this year.

But the question is whether readers will be willing to pay, as they have become used to free information.

Online media have been using free content to lure readers over the last decade or so. They relied on online ads after attracting a big number of readers. Such media outlets were springing up like mushrooms, and have posed a great threat for traditional media organizations.

However, the digital media outlets are facing a crisis themselves as revenues fail to match projections. 

In the US, leading digital media platforms, including BuzzFeed and HuffPost, have been forced to undertake job cuts to stem the losses.

Such developments have highlighted the survival crisis facing digital media.

Some argue that these online media outlets are struggling since social media platforms like Facebook and search engine Google have snapped up most of ad revenue.

It’s true that many people are relying on Facebook as a main source of news.

But stories shown by Facebook are determined by algorithms. The 'like' and 'share' of your friends will directly impact what news appears on your Facebook account. But that may not well represent the importance of specific news stories.

For example, many major international news and US stories have not been very popular on social media since they are not that juicy.

Personally, I’ve subscribed to The Guardian and New York Times. And I also signed up to Medium in order to look for in-depth investigative stories, as well as the unlimited plan of Kindle’s US and Japan versions, as well as Kono e-magazine service. This way, I can keep up with latest international news, in-depth analysis and trends.

People who are used to free information may think I’m just wasting my money. However, what such skeptics need to realize is that my news sources offer an enormous database of media content, which I can look up anytime, a trove of information that has been verified and checked.

It remains unclear as to what extent Hong Kong readers would be willing to pay for news. But I believe credible news sources still offer unique value, given that there is increasing amount of fake news on the internet and social media platforms nowadays.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 15

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Information Technology Federation Chairman