I am not the most articulate writer, nor am I good, experienced, (or thick-skinned enough) to demand that you pay for a piece of my writing.
In fact, most of the time, I believe that useful, factual information should be made available and free to the masses, especially when it helps equip people to make better decisions.
As a reader, I love not paying for news. Years ago, when news outlet TODAY gave out free printed newspapers at MRT stations, I would excitedly take one and devour the daily news on the train ride to school.
Yet, our entitlement to free content disturbs me, and having studied journalism in my undergraduate years, I’ve learned how the simple act of not paying for news has the ability to change certain industry practices, and how this has affected Singapore’s changing media landscape.
Charging For Access: How Much Does It Cost To Pay For News?
Before delving into my op-ed piece on the importance of paid readership, here’s a quick overview of the different subscription models different news outlets employ, for you to get a sense of the costs involved in a subscription-based model for local, and overseas news agencies:
Paying For News In Singapore
|News Outlet||News Subscription Type||Subscription Fee In SGD|
|The Straits Times||Basic Digital (2 devices)||$14.90/month|
|All Digital (4 devices)||$0.99/month for 3 months, then $29.90/month|
|All Digital + Print||$32.90 to $34.90/month (incl. delivery)|
|The New Paper||$7 to $9/month (incl. delivery)|
|The Business Times||Digital||$32.90/month|
|The Business Times||Digital and Print||$35.90 to $37.90/month (incl. delivery)|
|Channel News Asia||Digital||FREE|
Overseas News Subscription Fees
|News Outlet||News Subscription Type||Subscription Fee In SGD|
|The New York Times (USA)||Digital||$5.51/month (US $4/mth) for a year,
$11.03/month (US$8/mth) subsequently.
|Wall Street Journal (USA)||Digital||$13.77/month (US $9.99)|
|Washington Post (USA)||Digital||$13.79/month (US $10/month)|
|The Telegraph (UK)||Digital||$13.49/month (£8/month)|
|The Times (UK)||Digital||$8.43/month (£5/month)|
|The Guardian (UK)||Digital||$27.55/month (US$19.99/month)|
|The Economist (UK)||Digital||~$35/month
(S$69 for 12 weeks, then S$139/12 weeks)
|Print only||~ $35/mth
S$69 for 12 weeks, then S$139/12 weeks
|Digital + Print||~$45/mth
S$89 for 12 weeks, S$179/12 weeks
As seen, not all publishers charge highly for news, and international news organizations like Wall Street Journal and The Times have relatively affordable subscription rates.
News outlets also have different practices. The New York Times and The Economist allow you to read a certain number of free articles each month, while The Straits Times labels certain content as ‘premium’, setting up a paywall that allows only it’s subscription members to access certain articles.
[Op-Ed] Why It Matters That Readers Pay For News Voluntarily.
Setting up a paywall definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouth for most readers. Evidently, when Straits Times set up its paywall for ST Premium back in 2018, it received a hell of a backlash from its readers.
To be sure, I am not advocating for paywalls, nor am I encouraging newsrooms to slap hefty premiums that border on being exploitative, on readers. What I believe in, however, is for readers to pay their own way, for quality content that they enjoy.
Call me idealistic, and this may be a bit of a stretch: but I find paid readership, coupled with the production of unique, high quality and compelling content from news outlets, will do Singapore’s media landscape a lot of good.
Paid Readership Encourages Newsrooms To Act More Independently
In the code of ethics put up by the Society of Professional Journalists (I learned this in a media ethics class, ok.), journalists are called to Act Independently. Given the current media landscape where advertisers and the government are newsroom’s main source of profits and livelihood, it is difficult for companies to be reader-centric.
Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017 on digital news consumption showed that 16 percent of Singaporeans pay for online access (this includes ongoing subscription, donations, or one-off purchases), with less than half of its readers saying the trust the news in Singapore. This figure is extremely small and is insubstantial in sustaining the day to day operations of news outlets.
What happens then?
To compensate for the lack of income, newsrooms start filling their papers with advertorials, injecting a banner or two as page breakers between the content you and I read. Some even move to sponsored articles, where media outlets can earn from $5,000 to $10,000 per sponsored article. Media outlets backed by governments are expected to adhere to certain guidelines and red tapes.
There is an apparent struggle with balancing corporate and national interests with ethical journalism work: Once money is involved, there is a need to consider the image of both the corporate and government. Slowly, things start to veer off-course and the line between advertising and reporting starts to blur. It is hard for journalists to be seen by the public as individual entities that are delivering news in a manner that is neutral, especially in areas of politics, financial news, advice, and even government policies.
Can you blame them?
The content space is extremely saturated and difficult to compete in, and this is made worse when readers don’t find value in paying for news. In such a climate, it is difficult for independent media outlets to thrive, or even survive if they were to stick to the meagre amounts they earn through paid readership.
Local news companies are known to be state-controlled, without a unique voice that speaks on its own. This greatly diminished readers’ trust and respect for the newspaper, and when little regard is held for a biased source, people will no longer find value in paying for news. As such, it is important for news companies in Singapore to move away from being ‘politically correct’, and move towards a system that puts readers at the forefront of its interest.
When readers find value in paying for news, we create an ecosystem where we have a steady flow of income from a solid readership base. This reduces media outlets’ reliance on firms and corporations for money, and in turn, give newsrooms more leeway when it comes to generating genuine, unbiased content.
Should ‘Paywalls’ And Subscription Model Be The Way To Go?
That said paywalls and subscription models may not necessarily be the way to go, especially when doing so limits its access to the people who are unable to afford it.
Yet, on an individual level, if readers were to pay an amount that they are comfortable with to the publications whose work they recognise as good, value-adding and unique, perhaps that will result in a change in journalism practices to be more grounded, and reader-centric.
What Can News Outlets Do To Encourage Readers To Pay For News?
Of course, the responsibility of paying for news should not fall solely on readers. As readers, we only pay for things that we find worth paying for. I’m no expert, but here are some ways that may encourage readers to pay for the news they read.
Deliver Quality News And Opinion Pieces With Strong, Compelling Takeaways
Personally, I subscribe to The Economist and The New York Times. To me, I believe that readers pay for things they value, and I value the in-depth articles from The Economist and the eloquent, well-thought Op-Ed pieces from The New York Times. Aside from those, I love the videos and articles created by South China Morning Post and the occasional thought pieces from TODAY’s Big Read or RICE Media.
Developing A Niche
According to a study done by the American Press Institute, people are drawn to news for two reasons: First being a desire to be informed citizens (newspaper subscribers, in particular, are highly motivated by this) and because the publication they subscribe to excels at covering certain topics about which those subscribers particularly care.
Perhaps, developing a niche, or multiple specializations on topics that speak to the reader may be a viable way forward for news organizations.
Paying For The News We Read
Paying for news is a sustainable way in which readers can contribute, for independent news media to thrive. Granted, this is a multi-faceted issue, and support from readers can only go so far, especially when the onus is also on news companies to remain as an independent entity.
Do you think that news content should remain free for the masses? What would encourage you to pay for the news you read? I’d love to hear your thoughts and the alternative voices to this debate.