Oct 24, 2011

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

The Australian has become the first mainstream newspaper in Australia to lock up its content behind a paywall. Crikey spoke to the paper's COO John Allan about the bold experiment.

Jason Whittaker — Former <em>Crikey</em> editor and publisher

Jason Whittaker

Former Crikey editor and publisher

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, 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?

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

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

  1. gregb

    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

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

  3. paddy

    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. 😀
    All in all, a bloody good idea!

  4. Jeff Richards

    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

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

  6. michael r james

    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

    Don’t worry — you can still get Kevin Rudd free online on the weekly The EastAfrican:
    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

    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

    “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

    “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.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details