Would you pay to read the Straits Times online?

Registered readers of the Straits Times Interactive, the online version of Singapore’s quality daily, would have heard that we will soon be charged for web access.
I am curious to see how this little experiment will work out. As a trainee (in SPH itself, of all ironies) I was told by an American news guru that only newspapers with invaluable information in specialised areas – such as the Wall Street Journal, and perhaps the New York Times – could get away with this and make a profit.
Of course that was years ago, and I suppose our market (for paid print newspapers at least) is too small to sustain anything more than one or two big players. This makes it easier for them to control the market. And elsewhere in the world people like Glenn Reynolds, and most recently Jason Kottke, are making money by blogging. So perhaps it is worth a shot.
But once the doors close on readers of the Straits Times Interactive, we’d likely turn to TodayOnline and Channel News Asia, as well as the Asian sections of international news websites such as CNN and the BBC. I won’t miss the sports section – I prefer British papers with first-hand accounts of English Premier League matches, anyway.
In my view, the benefits for subscribers are nothing to shout about. It’s nice – but not essential – to access all Life! reports. I don’t see the urgency in getting Digital Life and Mind Your Body at 6am. At most, the Money reports may be useful to some (but isn’t sister paper, the Business Times, better for that?)
There are other ways to add value to this new subscription service, though I doubt much will be done:
Subscribers could get RSS news feeds. I scan the BBC and Guardian headlines off my feed reader, which is very convenient.
They could develop a more intelligent search engine, which actually lets me find the right articles.
They could cut down on advertisements. I particularly dislike the huge, distracting block of Flash in the middle of each article. Then again, I predict a dearth in pageviews once the subscription period begins. This will lower ad revenues, and gradually the company may be forced to lower their rates because they will be capturing much less eyeballs on their (presumably) most popular newspaper website.
Existing subscribers to the print edition could get free online access (like The Economist and BusinessWeek). Now, that would really rock. However, considering SPH’s existing business model with Newslink, I really doubt the latter would happen.
Overall, I’m not terribly impressed and I won’t pay for access. At most, I’ll just try to get up earlier in the morning to spend more time reading the paper version.
Come March 15, where will you readers turn to, instead?
[Update: SPH has reviewed their policy after receiving numerous reader complaints. Existing print subscribers now get a 50% discount. Now that’s more like it. About time they got more market-savvy!]


  1. monoceros

    NY Times, The Guardian (these two provide wonderful literary sections – and they’re free!), Channel News Asia (if it’s under SPH, will they begin charging too?), BBC, Washington Post. Goodbye, STI online.

  2. stef

    BBC, NYTimes and Google’s Newsfeed. Living outside of Singapore, I try to go back to STI online for my local stuff but now I guess I need to find another source.

  3. acaseofyou

    I would read today online, i fervently support them as i’m really impressed with their news commentary, they’re not afraid to speak their mind or publish radical opinions(relatively speaking) from foreign sources. Well, its just too bad they’ve toned down a bit since getting that warning from MICA. but i can still catch that difference in their reports! Besides that, bangkok post has quite interesting reports too,qte unexpected from a thai newspaper
    and, oh yes, CNA and SPH are rivals!!

  4. Trompe L'oeil

    A free alternative to STI

    Now that the Straits Times Interactive is no longer free, some of us are behaving a little like fish out of water when caught in a desperate need to access local news online. Don’t fret! Help is on the way…

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