This month is going to be an interesting and historically significant month in media.

First, we have seen the launch of the Fairfax iPad applications, representing a new high water mark in news delivery technology. They are also, of course, the necessary precursor to any attempt to wind down the print edition and to charge for journalistic content delivered digitally.

Now we have confirmation of what Crikey predicted: the Mumbrella 360 conference tomorrow will serve as the venue for an announcement of News Limited’s plans to erect paywalls around online content.

As previously reported, the News Limited’s plans involve conceiving of newspapers as having five different but complementary presences — print, free online, paid online, iPad and mobile phones.

And the paywall experiments are becoming more sophisticated. The New York Times paywall with holes in it seems to be the model du jour, rather than the simpler but more devastating to audience numbers approach taken by The Times and Sunday Times in the UK.

How to stay part of the conversation, while still getting people to pay? That is the dilemma. We should hear more about News’ answer tomorrow morning when Richard Freudenstein takes to his feet. Crikey will report in the lunchtime email.

Meanwhile, notice all the extra angst around being first and exclusive. It is always an issue, of course, but you can sense the extra effort that is going in to having special content set up on those apps and websites, all in the hope that when the paywalls go up, people will conclude that they can’t afford not to pay the price of entry.

A hair-raising experiment for all concerned, one entered into with a mix of passion and determination.

But we can now say with some confidence that by this time next year, the first results will be in. And this particular way ahead will either be clearer, or clearly a wrong turn, or (most likely) the right way for some stuff some of the time, but not the complete answer to anything.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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