Some thoughts on The Times and their paywall as relayed to a journalist recently, though in a slightly expanded and modified form.
Isn’t it sad that it’s 2010 and only now are papers doing something in this always-on multimedia world to up their game? Now we are told we’ll get some quality content after all the years of decline in quality and readership. Something is needed to bring back quality, maybe it’ll be the idea of paywalls that will bring it back and then maybe a different model to retain quality will happen. This recent presentation from Hal Varian from Google actually shows newspaper revenues have been under attack since the 50s.
Google has never been a threat. Terrible content has been. Looking at the media these days, you can’t tell which news site you’re on as every story is the same. Far too many pieces are just copied and pasted from press releases, especially the breaking news sections of sites.
It’s been a race to the bottom for years with newspapers cutting back on journalists and editors, relying too much on using news feeds that all other papers use and taking less and less risks to break stories. No longer have newspapers been setting the news agenda but covering it with a slight timeshift.
Paywalls won’t work if you are hiding the bland content that is also on so many other websites out there. The internet has been designed to route around “damage” or blockages so if you are blocking your content that’s based on a press release, it will be available elsewhere.
Initial reports from the Times are that there are “value adds” behind the paywall. More images, more insight, access to journalists etc. This is value and it is unique and I think people will pay for that.
Instead of charging for this content, other alternatives would be to sell historic data, to give free access to the main site but analysis type reports which can be used to enrich a company would be sold. Imagine having the Irish Times create a report on the state of technology in Ireland and opinions from their most experienced journalists on what are areas to punt on? Charge a few hundred euros for the report. Same for all the other industries they cover and tie it in with pass historical records from their archives.
There’s also way more money to be made from advertising if they made it more targeted and more automated. Instead of charging for banner impressions which makes both sides lazy, they should be working with advertisers on a cost per conversion model. Get direct custom from a newspaper site, pay more.
There are also sorts of additional streams too like business conferences, sport events with their pundits and the sports stars they know. Bands make less from album sales and more from touring these days apparently, a working business model, why not the same for newspapers? Too much hard work. I watched a documentary about UK dockers and in particular the Liverpool ones who resisted the cargo boxes for years and the shipping world passed them by. The print model worked for a while but it’s very odd that it really has not changed in decades despite all the warning signs being there.
Update: Paul McAvinchey’s thoughts on paywalls.