Are we all in the brown stuff if Times paywall fails?

For a media
hack like me, it’s had more twists and turns and dragged out longer than
the final series of Lost; and the budget-busting climax is still yet to come.

This week’s launch of the repurposed
websites for The Times and now standalone Sunday Times are nothing short of a
landmark in the evolution of the British Press industry.

It is the first major step on the
path to News International’s phased introduction of online paywalls. The idea of charging people to
access content online was first aired by Rupert Murdoch last summer, and the
debate over the viability of the model has been raging ever since.

Erecting paywalls around daily
news may yet prove to be “completely antithetical” to the way the web works, as eloquently expressed by The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger.

His position appeared to be bolstered by research published this week which found that most consumers (91%) would be
unwilling to pay £1 a day or £2 a week to access the Times Online. Only 5% said they would pay £2 for a week’s digital
subscription, although a further
4% said they would pay £1 for a day’s access.

And it was not just The Times that the public would be unwilling
to pay for. Give or take
one or two percentage points, the proportion unwilling to pay was the same for
The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and The Independent.

Meanwhile, speaking at last month’s PPA Magazine Conference, Stevie Spring, the chief
executive of Future, noted that Murdoch’s paywalls “break the basic rules of
marketing”.

Her basic premise
is that the world is moving towards two types of content-led product – ‘access-only’ and
what she termed “collectable artefacts” (like printed magazines) – with the web largely falling into the access-only camp, meaning people
will view the content if they can but rarely find it unique enough, or essential enough, to
pay for.

News International’s
management team are acutely aware of the very real dangers of slipping into a
“vault of darkness”
once payment is required, but are ploughing on
regardless.

“If it doesn’t work
than I’m in the sh*t,” joked News
Int’s commercial chief Paul Hayes
at a Brand Media event last week.
Reminding me of the old adage ‘many a true word spoken in jest’.

But the buck doesn’t stop
with Hayes, or even News International.

It’s hold your breath time for thousands working in the news business, and the many more studying on the many
oversubscribed journalism courses across the country.

Just yesterday outgoing chief executive Carolyn McCann warned of pre-tax losses at Guardian Media Group for the 12 months to March will be larger than the £90m plummet a year earlier.

Quality journalism
costs
money and it is significant that Guardian
News & Media’s MD Tim Brooks refused to rule out following Murdoch

if it proves successful.

I’m mindful that by the time the main protagonists finally realised how Lost was to going to play out, they discovered they were already dead. Let’s hope the press industry doesn’t leave it so long.

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    The research is interesting but until people can see the benefits of paying, it’s hard to guess what will happen. It is certainly interesting. I paid £10 for a month’s access to The Times iPad app and while I may not continue because I’m not a big news reader anyway, I would pay for the equivalent on a subject I am very interested in, e.g. Games and technology. Can’t wait to see how it all pans out.

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    There is only a small percentage chance the paywall will be succesful. Main reason being in the UK BBC dominates web-based news and is under no pressure to rein in it’s content spread. Britain is fairly unique in this respect. Why would anyone pay unless the content was of high value and unique?