They say they’ll pay, but will they pay for you?

People say they would be willing to pay for content online. But, would they be willing to pay for YOUR content?

A new survey from the Pew Institute found that — contrary to perceived notions — people would be willing to pay for online content. That is good news for news organizations that have been struggling to find a way to financially sustain themselves in the new media world order.

The survey shows that 65 percent have paid for online content — things like music and video downloads of applications. As time has brought a new dimension to online purchasing, the idea of paying for content online has slowly found favor among the masses.

Hopefully news organizations that have been champing at the bit for years to place paywalls on their sites won’t use this survey as their green light. While people will be willing to pay for content such as news stories, they’ll also be more selective as to what they choose.

That means that if you’re the only source of news in your area, or have the status of being “top dog” in your area, you may be able to successfully apply a paid program. The New York Times is planning such a thing in 2011, and they may have success with it because — after all — they are the New York Times.

But for the hundreds of news organizations that compete with one another, or in markets that are becoming more saturated with alternative news sources such as hyperlocal operations, this will be tougher sell. In order to make your pay plan work, you will need to offer online and through mobile apps something that people will want to pay for. And what worked for you in print or over the air most likely won’t cut it online.

Keep your customer in mind. For example, I currently have 10 news-related apps on my iPhone, ranging from the New York Times, BBC and USA Today to some local news outlets . If I were the type of user the Pew survey mentioned, then I would be willing to pay up to $10 a month for a subscription to these outlets.

But would I be willing to pay $100 a month of all of this? Not likely, so I’ll probably cull down my news choices to 2 or 3 of the most useful ones for me. So seven or eight apps would bite the dust from my iPhone. Now multiply that by the millions of mobile app users out there who would most likely do the same with their devices.

How do you keep from being one of the 7 or 8? You make  your online product one that your customers need to go to first for their news fix. That means making it more than just an RSS feed or a listing of headlines. It needs to be dynamic, interactive and unique to your market.  Most important, it needs to be there when your customers come to you.

That’s what people will pay for.

Is your organization there yet?

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Will iPad, mobile raise newspapers, or bury them?

The print industry took a pretty good hit this week.

First, The Reynolds Journalism Institute released a survey of iPad owners which found that users are more likely to

Is this the face of a (print) killer?

drop their print subscriptions in favor of getting news off the device.

Then,  eMarketer releases a survey that finds people are spending as much time on mobile devices as they are reading

If you’re a publisher, you’re probably yelling at the technology gods for bringing this curse upon the kingdom, then ordering the IT minions to create an iPad app of your website to appease the masses.

But if you’re more savvy, you’re reading into these surveys and seeing why people are attracted to mobile devices (iPad included) and steering away from print.  While current news apps on iPad, for the most part, reflect what you can find on other platforms (basically a recreation of the news organization’s web site or print product), you are finding these early adopters not accepting the way the content is presented, but the new technology itself.

This is because the iPad and mobile devices provide the user with an experience that is different from print. Newspaper reading was an experience to the reader — an experience that could not be copied by sitting in front of a computer screen in earlier forms. The iPad — and tablets in general — provide an experience that fits with newspapers but expands the sensory experience and gratification of the user.

So the print industry can continue to growl and look to charge for its content. Or it can look at how readers are absorbing the content, and create a product that provides the reader with an experience he is willing to pay for. We’re seeing dribs and drabs of this, from Sports Illustrated’s interactive prototype iPad app to Richard Branson’s sleek, multisensory “Project” magazine.  They’re taking news consumption to a new level, both in what they have to offer and how they deliver it to their readers.

If the print industry is to survive, they need to take the experience to that next level as well. And they can’t wait for someone else to come up with it, because the readers are already there.

Your readers won’t wait for you if someone else shows up first.

Quick takes: Paywalls, Patch work and point people

A new notes:

* Interesting move in California: The Sonoma Index-Tribune decided to drop its online paywall this week after AOL’s Patch hyperlocal product started a site in the community. Patch, which integrates journalists with user-submitted content, is offered at no cost for web access. The Index-Tribune’s program was three months in before the plug was pulled.

Lesson learned: You can charge for online content when you’re the only game in town. But if you are the only game in town and are charging for online content, you open the door to competition.

* Speaking of Patch, the Chicago Reader’s Mike Miner had a good piece on the life of local Patch reporters and editors, noting that AOL’s venture hired more journalists than any other business this year, although the average salary, while tempting for those straight out of college, was obviously a large step down for many out-of-work veterans who now are Patch people .

Miner likened the Patch experience to his own roots starting with UPI many, many years ago. Judging from my observations of the site and the working by friends who are employed, I have to agree that there is a scrappiness to many of these sites that you don’t see from most other hyperlocals (Triblocal being an exception here in Chicago). Judging from Miner’s story, it does sound a lot like my first gig at a small weekly newspaper. 

So it is refreshing that AOL’s venture into journalism is providing a great platform for new journalists to cut their teeth and hone their skills.

What’s sad is there isn’t much to jump to after that. The moral here: Follow your passion, but keep your day job.

 *New York Times Social Media Editor Jennifer Preston will be reassigned to a reporting role next year, with her duties as the Time’s social media point person going to the interactive staff. While she had been criticized at the beginning for not knowing much about social media, you have to give her credit for helping NYT focus its social media strategy and teach staff how to utilize it.

If you follow NYT socially, you know  how well they’ve integrated it into their news strategy, and how interactive many of the key staff are. Here’s hoping that eliminating the point person means the social media ship can run itself.