Thursday, 3 March 2011

Paywalls - coming to news websites near you

The New York Times, arguably the world’s best quality newspaper judged by its dedication to proper staffing levels - its stories are not dependent on press agencies, bloggers, and rival media – is gearing up to launch a partial paywall for its online operation.
In London the paywall v. free access debate will intensify further when the Daily Telegraph takes the same metered (charges apply depending on usage) approach later this year.
I have divided loyalties on the issue. As a former national newspaper journalist it seems crazy to give content away free when print media is losing sales and ad revenue. I would make this a paysite if I could; most bloggers would.
On the other hand as a consumer I’m not going to cough up as long as I can get my online news of reasonably decent quality from a free source.
It is significant that The Sun has yet to join Rupert Murdoch’s other UK papers behind a 100 per cent paywall suggesting all is not well with the decision to make The Times and News of the World online readers pay.
The Guardian and the Daily Mail are two newspaper groups which are determined to keep their websites free. It is no coincidence that both are excellent products of their type.
There are some specialist media such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal where readers have migrated fairly smoothly to paywalls. But I expect the Daily Telegraph to proceed very cautiously because it risks facing the same fate as The Times.
By going behind a total paywall Rupert Murdoch’s flagship UK newspaper lost considerable muscle. The Times online operation is now marooned from the rest of the internet dropping all the benefit of links to its articles.
More importantly if it breaks major stories during the day, relatively few can see them. One consequence is that the flood of readers has probably dried to a trickle and with it, I imagine, ad sales.
I can see those people who are already paying for content for their iPads, apps etc perhaps gravitating to the new regime but it’s going to be a slow process before the rest of us online readers sign up.
Still with his News International being given a green light today to buy the rest of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, Murdoch has taught his heirs the benefit of playing a long game.

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