Times Group, India’s largest media group, has taken a step towards what may eventually be a paid model for online news by introducing ‘exclusive’ content for registered users.
For now, registration and membership is free. Users can sign in using their Facebook or Google IDs, without having to type a single word.
The move could be a precursor to the introduction of a paid subscription model by the company on the Internet.
At present, nearly all content online — except pornography — is available on an ad-supported model as it is believed that the cost of producing content low and can be recovered using advertising.
Moreover, the potential audience for content is in the hundreds of millions and the cost of distribution is close to zero.
Even video content, which is costlier to serve, is largely sold using the ad-supported model.
Some publications in India, like Business Standard, have also taken baby steps towards introducing either free subscription or paid subscription for their online content, though digital subscriptions are yet to become a substantial source of revenue for them.
The Times Group seems to be following in the footsteps of international organizations.
Foreign outlets, such as the New York Times and Financial Times, introduced paid subscription several years ago for users to access much of their exclusive content not available outside.
In the first three months of 2017, the New York Times company reported that it got 61% of its revenues from subscriptions, up from 27% in the print era.
The company, which generates about Rs 10,000 cr of revenue per year, introduced subscriptions in 2011.
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The second advantage of having people register to read news is that it enables the company to track individual users’ behavior and get their email IDs.
With this, they are able to see which topics interest a particular and build up a keyword-based profile of each user.
Whenever a new article or content related to the keyword appears on the website, an email can be sent to the user to alert the person of the ‘breaking news’.
Such profiles can also be used to tailor content of interest to the user when they are browsing the website using ‘read next’ columns and popups. At present, companies often depend on ‘clickbait’ headlines to attract readers on social media and services like Google News.
On the downside, many people hate having to sign up for anything on the Internet, even if it is just a couple of clicks.