Saturday, March 27, 2010

Newspapers Behind the Pay Wall

The newsprint industry is now watching Rupert Murdoch’s News International with interest as it moves online readers from free reading to a pay to access of The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers from June. The UK papers will become the first national titles to charge for access to their whole sites which will cost £1 per day or £2 per week. They also have announced the intent to move their Tabloid papers , the Sun and The news of the World to a pay model later in the year.

What will be the outcome? Will consumers switch to the pay model or simply click to other sites who offer the same or similar content for free. Until now only The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have operated a pay wall online, but many argue that there content is more focused and a must have in financial sectors and to many of their readers it’s a chargeable expense. On the other hand papers such as the Guardian has built a significant online following based on free and don’t intend to make any moves away from it today. The New York Times tried to move to a subscription service for features and opinion content but withdrew it when few readers took up the option.

At a time when; broadcast news is available 24x7 over the Internet to even your mobile, when you can get free services to aggregate access to tens of leading newspapers around the world for free, when you can get Google to aggregates snippets and even feed specific interests to you on the move and where the line between journalism and social comment blurs under the democratisation of writing - is the pay wall viable? Over the last decade 24x7 broadcast news, free commuter papers and online news have reduced people's reliance on printed news but set an expectation of free.

The papers expected the business model to shift to one based on advertising but they have seen previously highly-profitable classified adverts and display advertising migrate online to others.

The Times and Sunday Times sites will be redesigned and re-launched in may and move to the new model in the summer. Will additional applications, moving images, dynamic infographics, interactive comment and personalised news feeds entice people to pay or will they merely vote with their clicks and leave Murdoch frustrated.

So will we be curling up with our laptop and tablet on a Sunday morning or still immersed in a mountain of print supplements? Will the newspaper delivery boys get a day of rest? Will online give the heavyweight newspapers a real sense of what articles actually count and which are mere fillers? Will we pay for what we can easily get elsewhere for free? Is newspaper loyalty that strong?

3 comments:

j purdie said...

Heard rumblings about this for months. How will it do? It's what Rupert wants, ergo it will get enough subscribers to justify it continuing.

Adam said...

I have read so much about the availability of news across many free platforms but I have not read anything yet about the quality of the writers and their commentary on a website which makes me want to return again and again. The reason I go to the Times website is purely for specific writers commenting across a wide spectrum of subjects. Patrick Barclay and Simon Barnes on sport, David Aaronovitch and Frank Skinner in commentary, AA Gill on telly and restaurants, Jeremy Clarkson, Caitlin Moran, Daniel Finkelstein on blogs... I don't care that the BBC provides a news service gratis, I want to read informed and entertaining writers and much as it pains me to say it I will pay Murdoch £2 a week to do it.

Martyn Daniels said...

Adam
I respect that you are a reader of the Times and obviously respect and know their commentary well. However I would suggest that the majority of the current readers may not share the journalist loyalty that you have.

Today, the paper is free online tomorrow it is behind the paywall. The NYT has equally good and respect commentators and columns but failed to attract pay subscribers and had to drop the subscription. What is different about the Times that will make the difference? It clearly isn't a WSJ or FT and has strong competition from the Telegraph and Guardian both on and off line and both remain free online.

The acid test will clearly be in the summer but my gut feeling is that it will not deliver the subscriptions but that Maxwell will stick with it as he has placed his money and reputation on it.

When you look at other Maxwell papers do you see the same offer and if not, how will it work for them?

The next question is whether on paying the £2 a week, or whatever to Maxwell will that be a substitutional sale or will you still buy the paper? If as i would suggest the online subscription replaces the offline purchase does the economics still work and will the ad revenues still remain and migrate at comparable rates?

Newsprint faces many challenges and is at the forefront of the free model. They are under siege from all angles and not least on their content aggregation model in the fragmented world of snippets and search aggregation.