The Times have revealed that 105,000 people have subscribed to the online version of the paper. Despite their proclaimed joy at this figure, it in fact represents a fall of 90% in their online readership. It is also a cumulative figure across 4 months and may contain the same people subscribing more than once. Not surprisingly advertisers have been fairly unimpressed, voting with their feet.
So is there a future in paywalls for newspapers? When the news is available freely from other papers and the BBC it seems unlikely that enough people will pay. The content has to be specialist and unobtainable elsewhere for it to be worth paying for. Having said that, cricket site cricinfo.com is free and provides a huge number of informative articles without a paywall. Currently cricinfo are advertising for writers on their site. As a cricket-loving copywriter I thought this might be worth investigating until I discovered that there was no actual fee for accepted articles – just the glory of appearing on the site. The Times would argue that if journalism is given away free then journalists can’t expect to get paid. Other publications hope online ad revenue will foot the bill.
It’s interesting to note that whenever the Times paywall goes down, certain Times journalists tweet this fact in a desperate attempt to get more people reading their articles. And of course if journalists see they are not being read, they may well feel more inclined to move to rival papers where their online presence is greater.
At the same time as this debate rages, back in the physical world the Independent has just launched a new 20p version and the Standard continues to be a completely free newspaper. This strategy represents the polar opposite to that of Murdoch and it will be fascinating to see which model wins. Whatever the outcome, advertisers should benefit from the increased competition and the newspapers’ greater reliance on paid for advertising.