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Papers should charge for online content — WPP boss

Newspapers should charge more for online content, Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, told a Newspaper Society conference on in London yesterday (Tuesday).

He said, according to a UK Press Gazette online report (available free): “I’ve always had a problem with free content. It goes against the grain of the Manchester Evening News issuing a free newspaper; we’ve got the FT doing it and Associated. I think if the consumer values the content I think you should charge him or her for it. The logic is don’t do that build readership then you can charge for advertising.”

You may be able to work out what that last sentence means but it got worse when Sir Martin went on to explain that companies needed “separate verticals” to grow online.

This bit of jargon was new to me, so I plugged it into Google and came up with only 44 hits. Felt better after that, but not much wiser. What he seems to be saying is that traditional print managements are not quick enough to cope with rapid online development.

Separate verticals are mercifully missing from the Newspaper Society’s own report of the conference. Sir Martin and Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press, discussed the “development of media channels.”

Bowdler said: “The rate of investment in digital publishing will continue to increase rapidly with the clear objective of providing local communities with the leading local digital platform to complement our strong local print brands.”

That sounds as if it was lifted directly from a rather complacent annual company report. From the reports, it does not appear the conference furthered understanding of how we might make real money out of the web — or that the regional press has really grasped how radical are the changes it will have to make.

Yet, Bowdler’s Johnston Press is well ahead of most of the regionals. At the end of last year I did an online piece for Media Guardian about the way in which their weekly, the Hemel Hempstead Gazette, had coped with the huge Buncefield fire. They certainly followed a web first policy and have the hits and Google News listings to prove it. The Gazette has also been increasing its print circulation.

The Newspaper Society is the association for regional newspapers.

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