are paywalls the way of the future?


Information-is-Beautifu-00-BBC-o-gramI’ve been following the debate about ‘paywalls’; the knight on a white charger (for the newspaper-centric generation/workers) seems to be Rupert Murdoch who’s British titles the Times and Sunday Times will, in June, be put behind a paywall, joining his business title, the Wall Street Journal, which has operated for a while in such a manner.

Rupert is mad that search engines (for instance) can aggregate his content and splurge it out wherever they (or the end reader) may be – and all for free. How is a newspaper to survive? Well I’m not sure a newspaper can remain economically viable in the current environment, so let’s for now say ‘news organisation’. Even then it is tough – good journalists are expensive. Look at the BBC graphic to the right and you can see that they spend £122 million on websites, another £61 million on the BBC News 24 channel, and it’s any-one’s guess how much of the large £1393 million piece of the cake goes towards news-gathering and journalism in general – importantly (other than for a few Brits who pay a licence fee) it is completely free to the global web audience.

It’s no wonder then that while father Murdoch is targeting the online giants, his son is greasing the palms of politicians in order to get the BBC onto a significantly shorter leash. That’s rather ‘proactive’ targeting of their perceived competition.

pay-per-timesSo the Murdochs expect that we should pay a fee to ‘read their newspaper’ online. But is that still a newspaper-centric view?

Clearly if you buy a newspaper you read a significant proportion of the content that you’ve paid for – maybe it makes us more well-rounded individuals! But personally I buy a newspaper only 2 or 3 times per year, I gain my news from the BBC, Times, Guardian, NY Times, Economist, Google News etc., etc., i.e. websites, and importantly I tend to look at the entry-page, cherry-pick the stories of interest then move to the next site. Let’s call it news-browsing. So why would I pay for the whole of the Times website, when I might read only 3 or 4 stories per day? The correct answer is – I wouldn’t, it’s just one less site that I’ll visit in a day.

Of-course that remains the case only while I have other options; if the BBC is reigned in and other ‘news-providers’ follow the Murdoch gambit, then eventually I must acquiesce. The problem for the Murdochs today is that a significant energy barrier must be overcome to get somebody to pay online, and (from my perspective) it’s still the newspaper model where I pay for all content even if I don’t read it. They might prefer the cross-subsidising model, but I prefer, as a consumer, to pay for what I read – if I have to pay – and of-course where the Times’ competitors see strategic advantage from remaining free (assuming advertising or whatever business models keep their heads above water) I’m probably not paying 😉

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

There is one response to “are paywalls the way of the future?”

  1. Philip8th April 2010 at 5:38 amPermalinkReply

    Newspaper publishers don’t know how to monetise their internet activity (the BBC does not compete with newspapers n the United States, but no United States news organisation makes money from its web activity), nor do they know how to present articles to readers on the net. On the web, there’s no way of putting huge quantities of information in front of readers and letting them skate rapidly over what they don’t want – I can skip big chunks of any newspaper in around a second because I have absolutely no interest in sport. You can’t do that on the web, when, tediously, you have to fetch every story.
    the Murdoch family’s protests are no more than special pleading.

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