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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.


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)

  11. Liz45

    I don’t know many from Murdoch stable, and those I do I can’t stand. There’s some decent ones at the SMH – but even then, most don’t do much independent reporting – just the usual and expected opinions. That’s another aspect I don’t like, too much editorialising and opinions as opposed to just reporting the facts.

    The SMH publicly stated prior to 2007 election for example, that it wasn’t supporting any political party in the elections(my mate still has that article – he said in all his yrs of awareness and having the paper delivered, they’d only ever supported the Coalition)- of course, they didn’t say they’d never supported the ALP and would spend all their time just reporting the news!
    Some of the reporting of NSW politics doesn’t even pretend at the moment – (whether the govt deserves it or not, and they’re pretty damned awful?) blatantly pro Libs!

    Murdoch’s comment just typifies his stance. He should be ashamed, but the man doesn’t give a toss! One day I’d like to see him pay for his actions, but…….?

  12. Elan

    It will find its own level.

    Those who want to pay , will pay. Those who do not.. The issue is in the volume of those who do pay, whether this is a viable thing to do.

    I will never pay. Never. It isn’t even the issue of political slant. There are many and varied sources to get ones news. And when (if ) they all charge-I’ll give it up! No kidding.

    It would never enter my noggin to buy a womans magazine,-but I do enjoy back copies at the Doc’s office or in a coffee shop. Pay?? Nah!

    Murdoch IS interesting in leading this. All he is proving is that greed breeds even greater greed.

    Crikey is NOT the same. I assume this is their only avenue? They have to get dosh from somewhere.

    Will I pay them? No.

    I have far more important things to do with my pennies, and frankly if we took paid memberships on sites that would prefer same-we would be shelling out a fair whack of cash each week/month.

    If this means that I am taking online content for granted. I am. And believe it or not, I can easily do without it.

    We really are overindulged in all things in the developed world. It would do no harm to do without some of it.

    So;-let’s see how this unfolds. Some WILL pay. I have little doubt the majority will just go elsewhere.

    As I said; it will find its own level.

  13. Liz45

    ELAN – Murdoch is an ugly greedy little man, who’s not happy unless he’s making even more money, and he doesn’t care what he has to do to do it! I’ve not given him a cent in over 30 yrs, and never will. I do have the SMH delivered at the weekend, as I like the indepth articles. If they also start charging on the net, I won’t bother. I like Crikey because people from different walks of life contribute, and I like the diversity.

    There’s heaps of overseas web sites where I gain information about world affairs – most much better than anything in Australia, and I include the ABC and SBS in this. Follow the US line religiously, which I reject. I hope Murdoch outsmarts himself! But I doubt that he will. I just find him repugnant! Totally!

  14. Tom McLoughlin

    Paywall or first boundary of a mausoleum for aging Rupert, beaten by Obama, and now beaten by Google? Time is the master of all, even an emperor.

  15. Bill

    Much as it pains me to say it, Rupert has a bit of a point that quality content can’t just be given away for nothing. There has to be some kind of income derived from it, because otherwise, it just can’t survive.

    However, paid content can only work if there’s enough quality to make people pay for it. It would be ironic if Rupert’s new business model were actually based on increasing quality.

    We have seen how even the quality papers have gone downmarket on their websites, promoting celebrity gossip and titillation in order to get more clicks.

    I try to do my bit but always clicking on the ads of sites I enjoy. You can scroll-click to open an ad in a new tab, then click it closed once it finishes loading. Who does that hurt?

  16. JamesK

    @Tom McLoughlin

    ” Rupert, beaten by Obama” ?????

    Are you serious Tom?

    Fox started only a few years ago but its many fold ascendency over its rivals is due in no small part to the MSM and their disgraceful blind backing of candidate and then President Obama.

    If Rupert is smart he’ll say a prayer for the Obamanation to continue.

    His news organisation, in particular Fox and the WSJ are going gangbusters due in no small part to Obama and the public rejection of his policies both foreign and domestic.

    Also I’ve never heard “Rupert” described as an emperor before but many describe Obama’s Presidency in those or similar terms:

  17. Kevin Campbell

    I cancelled my Foxtel subscription long ago and no longer pay to read any News Ltd publications unless it is free on the web, in Australia , because of obvious political bias (re pay TV …just watching 10 minutes of Fox News is enough).

  18. Bellistner

    These are expected to include moving images,[snip]

    Rupert has discovered .gif’s?

  19. JamesK

    Unlike the sanctimonious Kevin Campbell and his typical leftist arrogance, I can’t cancel my tax dollars paying for flagrant ABC leftist bias.

  20. Elan

    ‘Obamanation’ ? I thought that was only used by unintelligent rednecks?

    It is.

  21. Liz45

    JAMESK – Even Murdoch family members criticize him over Faux so-called news reporting! It’s got nothing to do with journalism – but fits in with Murdoch’s own personality! He gave up his Australian citizenship in order to make more money. Says it all really.The Yanks can keep him?

    @SANCHO – True!

  22. Liz45

    @JAMESK – No more than I can cancel mine that go to millionaires receiving family benefits; or wealthy private schools with millions in the bank getting even more millions this year(go to the SMH investigation re same) or the $10 billion that goes to the fossil fuel industry or paying for the extra nine people Senator Boswell employed in his office prior to the ’07 Federal Election, just to help him be re-elected? Or the $20 odd billion to superannuation that I won’t benefit from, or helping wealthy people on Sydney’s North Shore have their noses, boobs or bums ‘fixed’ while low income people have to queue in A&E depts as they can’t afford to be bulk billed, and the list goes on! Business lerks and perks, the tax system that Howard & Costello bequeathed us, that actively discriminates against married/partnered women re-entering the work force.
    That money makes money and to hell with the rest of us!

    You think the ABC is left wing biased as it is not as inflammatory right wing as via corporate media like the newspapers and commercial channels. If you had your way James, you’d only have right wing dogma full stop! I, on the other hand don’t think the ABC challenges the rightwing nonsense straight out of the White House, Pentagon or our Defence Dept for example! Lies and more damned lies about Afghanistan for instance! How much is that costing each day, to kill even more people, needlessly?

    Your priorities are a bit wonky to say the least???????What happened to the notion, that a free and fearless media is an imperative aspect of democracy etc??

  23. JamesK

    Good last question Liz.

    Address it to ‘their’ ABC.

    Mind you, the ABC Chairman made a very mild suggestion along those lines recently and it apparently didn’t do him much good……..

    Actually I don’t really fancy your chances of having a laudable concern for free and unbiased news coverage from either public broadcaster in this country respected.

  24. Liz45

    @JAMESK – Didn’t he comment on not challenging the IPCC on climate change enough? I thought he was just being a ‘denier’? If everything was just talked about, govts would never make a decision. He’s a Howard plant anyway! What would I expect?

    Well at least the ABC and SBS are better than the corporate media! I’ve seen some pretty good documentaries, 4 Corners, Foreign Correspondent etc and SBS docos are good too!
    ‘Afghan Massacre’ ‘The Years of Living Dangerously’Indonesia under Soharto, ‘Unconstitutional-the attack on human rights in the US’ about the PATRIOT Act. ‘How Bush Won Florida’ it was good too! Most informative. Never see them on Ch 7,9 or 10???They’re more interested in Paris Hilton type stories – boring!
    Most can be seen for free on http://www.freedocumentaries.org


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