Tag Archives: murdoch

The Rise of the Great Paywall

I have seen the future, sort of, maybe. No-one is really sure, but it is all anyone media types are talking about.

The Great Wall has landed;  The Times and Sunday Times paid-for websites have been revealed.

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.

Newspapers & advertising: an opportunity for innovation

Newspapers need to innovate to survive. The speed of the internet makes it a perfect bed partner for breaking headlines and up-to-the-minute (often milli-second) current affairs, so it would be ignorant to think the future of news lies anywhere other than on the web.

However, this fact which many journalists view with such gloom is by no means the nail in the coffin lid for print media – as long as they are prepared to look to the future and innovate.

Many newspapers are dragging their heels at a time when they can’t afford to, resting on the laurels that a tradition as the fourth estate has given them. Self-promotion seems to be something which most papers consider below them in their role as the purveyors of information.

As one of the three factors in a newspaper’s revenue model (along with the digital part and, oh yes, the readers), advertising space  is top priority, and a reason why the recession has hit print media so hard. (The advertising revenue from digital is still not strong enough financially to buoy up a fledgling paper).

Seeing as newspapers are a key medium through which all global brands communicate with consumers, why do newspapers struggle to speak about their own brand effectively?

Recently, a fellow City University student, who was working at The Sunday Times, blogged (unfortunately on an internal University page) about what can only be described as an employee pep-talk by James Murdoch.

Murdoch says a refusal to change the way in which we think about newspapers is "pathetic".

Murdoch says a refusal to change the way in which we think about newspapers is "pathetic".

“The newspaper industry is in one of the greatest opportunities for innovation I have ever seen, and if we don’t grasp it we’re pathetic,” he said.

The FT write about him saying something very similar at the Monaco Media Forum here.

She noted his “overwhelming positivity” in regard to the newspaper industry (a rarity these days) – yet also his urgent call to address the issues faced by papers and embrace change.

On his blog, The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki makes a well-known but problematic observation:

“When it comes to promoting themselves, newspapers have historically been almost completely uninterested.”

Put simply, this just won’t do.

Not only do individual brands need to consider their identity and differentiate themselves to be marketed effectively, newspapers across the board should be reconsidered in terms of what they are offering readers as a product.

Murdoch spoke of a focus on engaging customers, communicating with them effectively and building strong, quality and long-lasting relationships. This may sting some traditionalists but thought needs to be given to what a newspaper can offer other than simply the news.

This is a great opportunity in print journalism to take a fresh perspective on how to communicate with readers. By no means should there be limits put on the quanitity, or quality of the news but perhaps thought should be given as to how best newspapers can address consumers needs, and promote themselves effectively in what is becoming a vicious market.

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