Do I detect a dilution of The Guardian’s stance against charging for its digital content?
Well, that’s what I thought I heard from Alan Rusbridger, at a lunch in New York on Tuesday, when he talked about The Guardian’s “mutual” model of journalism and his firm stance against an online paywall of the kind that is soon to be implemented by The Times and The Sunday Times.
Mr Rusbridger stuck to his opposition to universal paywalls, but said that he would like to see The Guardian move to charging a subscription to those who access its journalism on iPhones or iPads – or presumably other mobile devices – as well as charging for some specialist content.
He was speaking just after Gordon Brown’s interview with the Radio Times, expressing his scepticism about whether online readers will pay for “basic” news, was published. If nothing else, that shows how fluid is the debate on the topic.
At the moment, The Guardian charges a one-off fee of $3.99 (or £2.39) for people to download its iPod app, giving them access to the paper’s content. However, this was what he had to say on the topic when I asked him:
“It is a signal that people will pay. Is that a one-off experience or should we try to migrate that to a subscription model? I suspect the latter and we should do that for all forms of content within the Guardian now for which people will be prepared to pay . . . I am not Taliban anti-charging. I want my journalists to pay their mortgages and be rich, happy people.”
Speaking at the Paley Centre for Media, he said it might charge for content such as databases its journalists assemble, or other specialist forms of coverage, although he noted that general newspapers that charged online faced competition from free niche providers.
I should note that I am not unbiased on this topic, as the FT charges for online access to its journalism and I criticised Mr Rusbridger’s stance in an earlier column.