Major changes have taken place in the world of online news

In the US, the New York Times is the most popular online newspaper, with 17.5 million unique readers visiting the site in October, up from 14.6 million in September. This leap can probably be attributed to the fact that in September, with little fanfare, dropped its TimesSelect subscription services.


Begun in 2005, ten years after the paper first went online, TimesSelect gave subscribers access to parts of the newspapers content not available to the general public, such as the opinions of its feted columnists like Maureen O'Dowd and Charles Krugman. The New York Times has also opened its news archives to the public, going back online to 1987, as well as making archives from 1851 to 1922 more readily accessible. The two-year subscription experiment came to an end to the simple reason that there was more to be made from advertising revenue than from subscribers who paid $49.95 a year. The NYT was making about $27,000 a day from subscribers, but given that the actual printed newspaper costs $1, the subscription revenue was only equal to a 2.4 per cent rise in daily circulation. This low figure, compared to the rise in online advertising revenue projected by the paper (which they will not disclose), along with columnists like Thomas Friedman claiming to hate the subscription service for cutting him off from his audience, made the decision to give away content easier for the Gray Lady.

On this side of the Atlantic, Auntie BBC has also made major changes to its revenue sources from online activity. The website is ranked 47th most popular in the world according to traffic counting site Alexa. The Beeb has been wrestling with the idea of displaying advertisement on it's website for some time, going so far as to hold an online poll of users to gauge support for the idea. The BBC reportedly aims to make 10 per cent of its income from online sources.

Despite independent surveys in the US that said BBC website users “unequivocally” believed that advertising would reduce their trust in the BBC brand, the dilemma was recently overcome. Viewers from outside the UK are now subjected to an extremely low-key advertising campaign on some of the news pages. The Corporation has been profuse in it's explanations as to why they now carry ads, and vigorous in defending itself from accusations that accepting the corporate pound can only lead to a distillation of integrity and a bending to commercial realities, leading to a situation where the BBC might have to censor itself for the sake of money. It claims the new revenue will allow them to improve the quality of the journalism and programmes. Only those outside the UK will see the advertising, as they do not pay the UK licence fee.

Changes in the BBC charter earlier this year allowed it to receive revenue from advertising. BBC Worldwide, the commercial subsidiary of the corporation, will now make up the financial support for the BBC's international site that was previously provided by grant-in-aid from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Competitors had complained of the unfair advantage BBC website had from licence fee funding. Now they have to deal with a BBC that not only takes their customers, but also their advertising revenue.