Will You Pay $8/Month For Online News?

Brad Linder —  January 25, 2011

Ongo is a new service that sounds crazy, might be brilliant… or might just be as crazy as it sounds. Here’s the pitch: It’s a one-stop shop for news. Right now that stop is a web site, but there’s an iPad app waiting for Apple’s approval and other mobile apps could follow. Content comes from mainstream news sources including the AP, USA Today, The Guardian, The New York Times and the Financial Times.

Here’s the crazy part: Ongo is a subscription service with prices starting at $6.99 per month. That monthly fee will get you access to content that’s largely already available on the web for free.

Sure, there’s some benefit to getting the top stories from multiple sources in a single location. And an ad-free interface is certainly an attractive selling point, (although after spending the last 15 years or so online, I’ve found it’s generally pretty easy to tune out the ads if I don’t want to pay attention to them). But overall, Ongo is still asking people to pay for something that’s already available for free, and that’s a tough business plan to get away with.

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12 responses to Will You Pay $8/Month For Online News?

  1. There is a segment of folks, such as myself, who will pay for compelling content in an attractive package. But I’m not sure this is it. Will wait and see what the iPad app looks like before passing judgement though. And, of course, it sounds like Apple has a periodical subscription service in the works as well… in addition to newspapers formated for Kindles, etc (which I haven’t found to be very good).

  2. Marge Geneverra January 25, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Pay $84/year for freely available content? Not me. A good RSS reader & it’s all free. Ongo is toast! We’ll see how some of the big news sites do when they move their content behind a pay-wall. That will reveal the future for paid news content.

  3. Not me either. I have enough stuff to read on the internet every day. Breaking news? TV.

  4. Nope, not me. There are already far too many places for me to get my news that I’m already paying for. Between Cable TV and its myriad news sources, Cable Internet and the entire web of “free” news sources, plus my Cellular phone which has news apps, plus web access this service would be completely useless to me.

    I feel this service is doomed to failure.

  5. nope. never. not a chance.

  6. I doubt I would. However, if it was a REAL non-biased news reporting site, with no ads, and no fluff stories just to fill up space, then maybe.

  7. If done correctly, I think it’s a terrific business idea. Look at it this way. If Ongo can manage their expense burn rate, then how many people do they have to sign up to be immediately profitable? Let’s guess that they have 10 people based in the US, plus another 10 outsourced. So they are maybe at $2M per year expense rate. And at $84 per year subscription rate, then they only need 25,000 subscribers to break even.

    The problem comes in when founders try to expand beyond their core and they expand in the wrong direction. Let’s say that they do pretty well and get up to 100,000 subscribers with great demographics. Advertisers come knocking and TiVo Ongo reasons “one little advertisement won’t hurt” the interface.

    Or the founders could get even bigger headed and say “hey, we can take on Facebook or Google …. we were profitable faster than them!!!”. They take on VC money (note: they’ve already taken $4M) and debt and faster than you can say “dot com bust”. Boom.

    But as a successful medium-sized web destination business? Sure, great idea.

    I won’t pay $8/month, but somewhere between $0 and $8, there is a number that I would pay for no-ads, clean delivery.

  8. Proof that the so-called “curators” have any competency is required first, way before price is even thought about.

    Where’s the masthead?

    Need photos, first and last names of “curators”, plus contact info and their written statements of stock holdings. In addition to all that, I want to see their professional qualifications ( PhD in journalism, experience in the field of reporting, etc. ).

    Let me know as soon as that gets put up somewhere. KTHXBAI…

    Oh wait, what’s that you say? The curators are really sales people who just push the content to the front page based on who paid the most money?

    Oh. Nevermind.

  9. First answer: no. Not as long as I can get the news I’m looking for online for free. So as long as not every news site I consider worthy of my time goes behind a pay wall, they won’t get my money.

    That said I understand that this attitude is driving these guys out of business. And this probably means that a lot of them will either cease to exist or go behind pay walls. Problem is I’m just one person and I have to be careful where I place my bets.

    If I can’t get the news I want online without paying somebody though, I’m a lot more likely to just pay the NYT than I am to pay these guys, whoever they are.

    Oh, and @George, don’t you have to factor in COSTS to your calculations? If Ongo is charging money for this service I assume each of their contributors is going to want a piece of that check.

  10. IF there were actual news, perhaps. However, none of those services listed can be considered “news” any longer. Let me look at the front pages of a few….

    USA Today: Two top stories in their “Money” category: Futuristic Volkswagen XL1 gets 261 mpg (a press release from Volkswagen today that they are reprinting and giving some free advertising to) and Justin Bieber and Ozzy to star in Super Bowl ad. Wow…I’d love to pay $8 for that crap.

    New York Times: Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen (a study released yesterday with a press release, and happily promoted by the newspaper). Hmm…that’s nice.

    People MIGHT pay for news…if these outlets produced such thing anymore…… Aggregating the junk they call news just collects it all in one place, it doesn’t make it any better.

  11. Our local newspaper’s website wants you to pay $2.99 a month just to read the comments and post comments on latest published stories.

  12. @Glenn, Ongo’s cost of the content is in fact an expense to be considered. You are correct, and I have no idea what that number might be. My real point though, was that sometimes you don’t need Facebook mega-numbers of subscribers to have a nice successful business.

    To follow on to @Greg’s comment, our local Dallas Morning News (http://www.dallasnews.com) is switching to a paywall at roughly $15/month.

    There is in fact some number north of $0 that I would pay to have good quality, ad-free, well laid out news. That number is well-south of $8/month. $24/year?? Yeah … maybe.

    Consider that there are also a pretty large number of people that are not RSS-savvy who would pay a few dollars for what Ongo is theoretically promising. This customer set is probably disjoint from ZNF’s customer set.