Mar 29, 2010

Murdoch’s Great Paywall Experiment. It begins.

Rupert Murdoch's newspapers are about to begin charging for content online. Expect the battle between Murdoch and both the BBC and the ABC to reach a new fever pitch.

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

And so the great experiment begins. As Rupert Murdoch announced last year, his newspapers are about to begin charging for content online. On Friday, The Times and Sunday Times in the United Kingdom announced that from June users would be charged 1 pound for a day’s access, and 2 pounds for a week’s subscription to the website – meaning you would be a dolt not to go for the week. Print subscribers will get access to the websites included in the cost. Meanwhile closer to home, The Australian used up precious page print real estate on Saturday to tell us that it would launch an application for the iPad when it is launched in Australia, with users to be charged a monthly subscription. Other News Limited papers will follow. You can see a sneak preview of  the UK News Limited pay-for websites here. The Guardian has done the figuring, and reckons that if just five per cent of the current daily users of the UK sites take out subscriptions then it will bring in 1.83 million pounds. But will readers convert? The truth is that nobody really knows how many of the visitors to news websites are committed and loyal enough to pay for content, and how many are just dropping by. Information leaking out of various bunkers around the world suggests that News Corporation  is hanging its hat not only on the content, but on various new “apps” that they hope will draw in readers and users. These are expected to include moving images, graphics, interactive comment facilities and personalised news feeds. Doubtless there will be other things that are being kept more deeply under wraps. Meanwhile info-is-meant-to-be-free evangelist Jeff Jarvis has strong things to say.
“Rupert Murdoch has declared surrender. The future defeated him. By building his paywall around Times Newspapers, he has said that he has no new ideas to build advertising. He has no new ideas to build deeper and more valuable relationships with readers and will send them away if they do not pay. Even he has no new ideas to find the efficiencies the internet can bring in content creation, marketing, and delivery. Instead, Murdoch will milk his cash cow a pound at a time, leaving his children with a dry, dead beast, the remains of his once proud if not great newspaper empire.”
But let’s face it. Nobody knows if it will work. This comment piece from Forrester Research’s Nick Thomas takes it as far as anyone can, without coming down on one side or the other. I’m not going to either. I suspect it will work – for some things some of the time. Whether it will be enough to support what we have become accustomed to thinking of as mass media is another thing entirely. I suspect rather we will see more and more niche media, serving smaller more intensely engaged audiences, while commoditised “leading headline” material is available just about anywhere, and for free. And I agree with Jeff Jarvis on one thing. There is opportunity in this for people entering the industry with “highly targeted, ruthlessly relevant new news businesses at incredibly low cost and low risk.” Perhaps the real story is that Murdoch is getting out of the mass news business. One thing’s for sure. Expect the battle between Murdoch and both the BBC and the ABC to reach a new fever pitch – because let’s face it -- tax payer funded free to air news is one of the main threats to any pay-wall strategy.

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24 thoughts on “Murdoch’s Great Paywall Experiment. It begins.

  1. Pete from Sydney

    Coming from a paid content web site, it’s a fairly wishy washy position to take…Crikey has had no trouble predicting the demise of newspapers for some time now, so don’t sit on the fence Margaret, have a crack…I’d guess that if the truths known you’d be betting it won’t work.

  2. Liz45

    Murdoch won’t be getting any of my money! I started my boycott after Whitlam Govt was sacked! Nothing he or his so-called journalists have contributed to date would change that commitment. Fancy paying for Andrew Bolt or Piers Ackerman?

  3. Meski

    No, I wouldn’t fancy paying for them, Liz. But there are some articles I’d pay to read, on a per article basis. If it’s a pound per day for the whole site, I’d expect a per article to be about 10c, or less if it carried advertising. Or how about we nominate columns we want to follow, and pay per month? I’d like to see Bolt and Ackerman go hungry.

  4. wordfactory

    Meg, as a freelance journalist, I’m barracking for Rupert. Considering that the group I mainly work for didn’t see the internet revenue ambush coming 10 years ago, and thought it would be smart business to give away the labor-intensive stuff that cost hundreds of dollars a time (several hundred times a day) to finance, I don’t want to give them any more reason than they’ve already deduced in a brain-damaged sort of way to turn the online output into low-rent Hollywood gossip and police rounds a stenographer could author. Market fragmentation is one thing, but waving to the revenue as it leaves the building is the height of stupidity, which my group now specialises in.

  5. Liz45

    @MESKI – Because you believe in anarchy, or are against racism, lies about asylum seekers etc? There’s many avenues to inform and educate these days. If I have to resort to a Murdoch paper etc, I’ll give it away altogether – those so-called journalists are pathetic, right wing people who support murder and mayhem as long as it supports their boss’s goals and lifestyle.

  6. billie

    If Murdoch chokes the ABC and BBC and gets Senator Conroy to filter out Al Jazeera he will have as perfect a news censorship as any communist or other dictatorship could wish for.

    At the moment Murdoch has shown News Corporations ability to control the message and make the news at crucial times like Fox calling the 2000 US Presidential Election for Bush and controlling the Florida Recount spin. Murdoch boasts that Australia has never elected a Prime Minister he didn’t want.

  7. mbdonaldson

    It was only a matter of time and it is only a matter of time before Mr Murdoch also starts charging for subscriptions to My Space etc.

    Can’t see newspapers allowing free access to their twitter feeds for many more years either. Or twitter may end up serving as a free advertising site for newspapers with headlines that lead to a “want to read the full article? subscribe here” link.

    Like a lot of crikey’s stuff.

    The increase in revenue will allow major media outlets to swamp the internet and drive out or buy out the smaller alternative news sources that can’t compete with the spending power of the majors.

    While the internet has somewhat formed a significant socialist presence in the Western capitalist world, there are people with too much power who will not allow it to stunt their ‘progress’ for much longer. And there’s no doubt we will pay.

  8. Sancho

    The trouble there, Liz, is that people who DO want to be fed an uninterrupted stream of self-righteous bullshit will sign up to Bolt and Ackerman but won’t be exposed any more to the counter-arguments.

    Debate and ideology on the net is niched and polarised, and I’m not convinced it’s in the best interests of Australia for the established media to follow that example.

  9. Chris Sanderson

    When The Australian first started I remember thinking what a great newspaper and bought it rather than any other.

    But Murdoch totally lost me when his minions in Australia started to shed the truth in favour of being pro Howard and promoting the deniers of Global Warming in favour of their fossil fuel buddies.

    I welcome the end of the monopoly on opinion that Crikey represents. And I especially welcome the opportunity to choose which writers I trust and only subscribe to them.

    I hope this is the begining of the end for mass printed media, at least we’ll save lots of trees.

    Perhaps this might also herald the begining of the end of mass media manipulation……/Chris

  10. Meski

    Some of the Aussie’s journalists are ok. (although, looking for an example today, I couldn’t find one on their site to use for an example)

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