Charging for online news won’t work, says Google chief economist

Google's chief economist, Hal Varian, has said generic news outfits charging for news is a bad idea.

Speaking at a US Federal Trade Commission's conference on the future of journalism, Varian said the newspapers should charge for specialist, informed and up-to-the-minute information that can be of commercial use.

He added that while individuals spend on an average 25 minutes reading the physical newspaper, they spend only 70 seconds reading online news.

Varian said the news section of a newspaper is usually cross-subsidised by other sections such as automotive, travel and lifestyle. But these are now targeted by subject-specific web sites and services, leaving the news part of the operation unprotected.

Varian called upon the newspapers to experiment with new models to grab reader attention on the internet. He suggested Google's "FastFlip", Living Stories and a couple of other Google projects as possible solutions.