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The Australian’s golden tickets: paywall comes down on ‘new era’

Around 10.30am, the wall came down. And the former prime minister — as if he doesn’t have enough to worry about — was no longer free to the masses:

Kevin Rudd wasn’t alone. You have to pay for Paul Kelly now, too. And Mike Steketee, Christopher Pearson, Greg Sheridan and most of the top stories from today’s paper. Even the editorial announcing the paper’s “new era” was locked.

You’ll need a golden ticket to get in — a “digital pass” — which for the next three months will only cost you personal information for News Limited’s database. After that, as Crikey has previously reported, it’s at least $2.95 per week for digital access — including the paper’s tablet applications and a new mobile site launched over the weekend.

We’ve spent a lot of energy on the functionality to make sure that it’s completely seamless and easy for the consumer,” The Australian’s chief operating officer John Allan told Crikey on Friday. The newly-designed homepage mostly lives up to that promise: locked stories are clearly denoted by the gold key and the sign-up process is straight forward. (If only it then took you back to the story you wanted to read in the first place.)

Allan was in Melbourne last week to address a boardroom full of “digital leaders” (Crikey spotted marketers, ad agency types and social media gurus) at the invitation of executive recruiters Slade Partners. The guests left with their stomachs full and their complimentary Moleskine notebooks tucked in their satchel bags seemingly impressed with the pitch. Allan is a good salesman, and the newspaper has a finely-honed spruik — including a Trojan “Future of Journalism” blog —  after more than 12 months of research and development.

But as one of the digerati commented to Crikey, nobody — News Limited included — really knows if it will work.

Allan, who’s only been in the job since July (previously he was in charge of News Limited’s directories business TrueLocal.com.au), is confident they have the right model. It’s not like The New York Times, which has a metered system of freebies, or London stablemate The Times, which has put all its content behind a subscription paywall. The Oz took “learnings” from those papers, he says, but ultimately decided on the path of another News Corporation stablemate in The Wall Street Journal — locking up the freshest content.

Because it’s a freemium model it will move according to the issue of whether that story is exclusive,” Allan told Crikey. “So what we recognise is that … we apply a filter about that story — is that story exclusive, is it unique, is it timely, are we offering the consumer something they perhaps can’t get somewhere else — and that will denote whether that will be a subscription story or a free story.”

Section editors will decide what content will be subscriber-only, Allan says. And the wall will move throughout the day — if a locked morning scoop is picked up by other media by the afternoon it may be unlocked. Editors will have the power to “dial up or down” the subscriber content.

Like other subscription websites, The Oz’s wall will have holes. Google will still crawl locked stories, and readers will have access to five of them from the search engine. Content shared via Facebook will be also be free — at least the first article — but all locked links from Twitter and LinkedIn will hit a paywall.

They were deliberate decisions. Facebook is a more powerful traffic generator than Twitter for the website, Allan explains interestingly, and editors recognise the power of social media in the online space.

As for how much traffic the site will lose, Allan not surprisingly isn’t saying. It’s a “balancing act” between advertising revenue and subscriptions, he says, pointing to The New York Times which has actually grown its traffic since implementing a paywall. Advertisers have been well briefed and, according to the COO at least, aren’t nervous about the numbers.

He’s also coy on any damage inflicted to the brand in a war by some in the federal government — led by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy — against the paper. Not to mention some of its linen being aired in a profile of editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell in The Monthly. He directs those questions to Mitchell, but with his commercial hat on declares existing readers trust the paper.

The Australian isn’t for everyone,” he said.

But is it for enough online readers to make this bold experiment a success?

15
  • 1
    gregb
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I don’t buy the rag in paper form and I won’t buy it in electronic form. It will cop a big fat IGNORE from me.

  • 2
    Lloyd McDonald
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Paying to read Christopher Pearson. Now that’s the joke of the century.

  • 3
    paddy
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I think of of it not so much as a paywall, but more like a safety fence.
    You know, the sort they put around swimming pools to prevent kiddies drowning. :D
    All in all, a bloody good idea!

  • 4
    Jeff Richards
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Yes, put a wall around the stinking rubbish dump. Great idea. There is no reason why a conservative or neo-liberal newspaper cant be a good newspaper, but the Australian has given people no reason for us to love it (e.g. editorial fairness; engaged debate with all shades of opinion; intelligent commentary rather than megaphone propaganda in interests of the ruling elite) or dish out our money for it. I want the bloated, cross subsidised managers and journalists of the Australian to be subjected to the same neo-liberal financial scrutiny from Newscorp shareholders as most of them have been advocating for the rest of society.

  • 5
    SusieQ
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Pay to read Janet Albrechtsen? I’m not paying for my weekly amusement!!!!

  • 6
    michael r james
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    A great experiment. But due to this little clause in the Terms & Conditions (below) the real crunch will not come until the new year. Then all the freeloaders (including me) will have to decide.

    Suspension, Cancellation and Termination
    You cannot suspend or cancel your digital subscription during the complimentary trial period.

    This is a sneaky clause when you think about it because it means News will claim they discontinued us, not the other way round. It means they will have good numbers spanning a 3 month lag period well into next year. Also if one continues to receive News Ltd promotional or whatever material via the email address you had to provide, one wonders if this clause does not already breech consumer law?

    Personally I think the NYT model is better. As an occasional reader you don’t notice it. If a regular user it is a pretty fair deal. IMO it doesn’t raise any feelings of corporate hatred. This News Ltd scheme is going to put almost everything behind the paywall similar to The Times & WSJ and Australian Financial Review. So who even visits those sites anymore? On the other hand the NYT model has proven itself while both the WSJ and AFR models are too expensive.
    ……………………………
    FYI, the registration site does not allow enough time to read all of the Terms & Conditions before it times out and you have to start from zero.

  • 7
    Robert Johnson
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Don’t worry — you can still get Kevin Rudd free online on the weekly The EastAfrican: http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/OpEd/comment/Small+is+beautiful+++but+it+can+also+be+fragile+++/-/434750/1260418/-/item/0/-/5v19grz/-/index.html
    It looks like a different article this week than in The Australian. Is he writing different articles for each region of the world? Are UN member (voting) states impressed? (But I haven’t seen The EastAfrican carry any Pearson or Albrechtsen.)

  • 8
    Paul
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Wow now all they have to do is raise the prices of all the other contentless gutter crawlers they produce and we will be in a News free world, my idea of media heaven.
    Sorry, they will simply use the ABC to promote their bias.

  • 9
    Tom Jones
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    So what we recognise is that … we apply a filter about that story — is that story exclusive, is it unique, is it timely, are we offering the consumer something they perhaps can’t get somewhere else — and that will denote whether that will be a subscription story or a free story”.
    Christopher Pearson, Greg Sheridan? Ha ha ha.
    I thank the Australian for limiting access to the poor standards set by these hacks. Considering how the paper has had to be given away to maintain any kind of circulation it is a positive move to limit it in this way.

  • 10
    Roberto Tedesco
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Tony Abbott looked the goods yesterday as he laid into a hapless ALP, cutting a swathe through their shocking and terrible policies, as the good people of Australia sang in praise of him. The disgusting, terrible carbon tax was…”

    Please subscribe to continue reading.

    K off you dreary little coalition lackeys.

  • 11
    david
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    All we need now is a paywall on the ABC, Fairfax and Commercial Radio and there will be ‘peace in our time’. Bring it on!!!

  • 12
    Mark Heydon
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    But is it for enough online readers to make this bold experiment a success?”
    How do you define success for a paper that has in all likelihood been losing money for years?

  • 13
    michael r james
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    @MARK HEYDON Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Clearly Rupert Murdoch has never measured success of his most politically influential entities in financial terms. For him and his right-wing economic rationalists, remaining in publication and under his control is success enough.

    There was a powerful example today that has gone unremarked, itself a measure of just how unthinking the whole media is in Australia. On the front page (certainly of the website, I presume the print copy) of the earliest edition (late Sunday night) was the first story about the Newspoll on Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. This morning’s edition had an additional article. But earlier on ABC AM and on every ABC radio bulletin I have heard today and ABC tv news, and SBS news tonight and I assume on all the commercials, it was a top story. On the ABC it was mentioned 4 times in the bulletin, once in the pre-summary, twice in the story and again in the finishing summary. This “non-story” was made THE story entirely by News Ltd. Everyone else followed. How the ABC news editor would justify this partisan and worthless piece of garbage (speculation from the always dodgy polls commissioned and controlled by News Ltd on an issue they editorialize about in a partisan fashion, on an outcome which is not even on the cards for 2 years).

    Isn’t that a breathtaking kind of success?

  • 14
    BSA Bob
    Posted Monday, 24 October 2011 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Murdoch & Ltd News use the paper to set agendas, as pointed out by Michael R James above. Unfortunately, the ABC etc. will still find it cheaper to subscribe to the rag & repeat it than to do their own thing.
    As for individual punters, who indeed would pay to read Christopher Pearson?

  • 15
    eric
    Posted Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    I wont be paying one cent to Murdoch to read the biased drivel that goes for reporting in the Australian.
    I also agree that the ABC should stop being lazy and stop reporting the News Ltd controlled “newspoll” as if it is newsworthy.

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