I have seen the future, sort of, maybe. No-one is really sure, but it is all anyone media types are talking about.
But before Murdoch‘s (or Harding’s, really) iron gates descend in June, we are free to browse.
Both sites, which are now independent from one another, are usable, look slick and as promised are far improved from the current Times Online format. Being frank, if they had stayed in the same clunky, unattractive style, no-one would have paid.
But yes, the paywall. Whether this is a genuine attempt to increase revenue, or a great PR exercise and fun media pawn-playing game for Murdoch, we will soon be asked to pay one pound per day, or two pounds per week for access.
The question isn’t really whether it is worth two pounds. In my mind, it obviously is but no-one yet knows how the digital masses will behave. In fact, I think varied as we are, there may well be room for both paid-for models and free online content.
Jeff Jarvis sees the move as lazy and weak displaying a lack of innovation and inspiration from The Times to compete in the online world. This is far removed from where editor James Harding positioned the decision:
“The Times was founded to take advantage of new technology. Now, we are leading the way again. Our new website – with a strong, clean design – will have all the values of the printed paper and all the versatility of digital media.”
Jarvis’ point that Murdoch had until recently never used the internet does not lure me to his way of thinking. I highly doubt this was Murdoch’s decision alone, sent in a demanding note via pigeon to Wapping, in the same way I presume he isn’t spearheading the well received technical improvements to the website.
Harding accepts that 90% of Times Online visitors will be lost, but that these people will have been ‘window shoppers’.
But aren’t we all now part of this clan, curious consumers who are able to grab information, digest it quickly, share and move on? The variations lie in where we place our allegiances and which sources we value most.
Trying to align a business model which pays for journalism with the intangible value of the work itself and the requirements of its audience and in such a vastly uncontrollable and unchartered space is a mind-bogglingly complicated issue.
If The Times website does indeed lose 90% of readers, how will its journalists feel? What use is an exclusive story behind a paywall and… good God what will happen to sharing news on Twitter?
Realistically, this comes down to revenue. Journalism does need to be paid for, but whether this is the right format remains to be seen.
If this fails it may simply highlight the shift in the way the majority of internet users consume news, and the the digitally savvy reader will just go somewhere else for now. But I forsee that what may start with a loyal, dimished readership forking out for access will eventually grow into a trend, and more papers will follow.
Eitherway the installation of this paywall around one of the UK’s most influential news sites marks an unavoidable shift in the media landscape and perhaps worringly, Murdoch is at the helm.