Rupert Murdoch’s comments about search engines “stealing” his newspapers’ stories, and his pledge to make sure his titles’ news is not free, has fired up the paid content argument.
In his article for The Register, Murdoch: Google is mortal and together we can kill it, Andrew Orlowski argues that Google indexes too much junk, and News International cutting off its news steams would remove quality content.
However, in a world where the BBC exists (and those of us who work in UK regional press know our local BBC newsrooms follow up our stories and present them as news sometimes weeks after the fact) and provides excellent national and international coverage, then what has Google got to lose?
“Getting to there isn’t something News Corp can do on its own. But much as they may fear him, all the commercial rivals share a common purpose – they’d dearly love him to be the battering ram, bashing down a door they could all run through,” Orlowski writes. But who will join Murdoch?
It’s not as though paywalls haven’t been tried before.
The regional daily in my own home town of Brighton experimented with paid content a few years ago. Readers could pay for a PDF of the newspaper online and the archive.
Today its online readers can read stories, archives and watch videos, which suggests the early experiment was a failure.
On November 26, Johnston Press announced paywall experiments for a number of titles in northern England and southern Scotland.
Two options are on trial, a three month subscription of £5 to view content for some titles, or readers click onto a story and are sent to a page telling them to buy the newspaper.
We will know next year if the experiment has been a success and see if it is rolled out to the company’s other titles.
Johnston Press is not along in experiencing a fall in advertising revenue during the credit crunch.
Many of its regional weekly and daily newspapers have seen a drop in print readership. As Paul Bradshaw has pointed out here, the paywall can be seen as the logical way to keep quality, loyal readers, which advertisers will be willing to pay premium rates to reach.
In South Africa The Witness in Peitermaritzburg started operating a paywall for its local news service in early November.
In an editorial explaining why the newspaper has taken this option, deputy editor Yves Vanderhaeghen points out to readers, “Google gives you the world, but does anyone cover Maritzburg news better than The Witness? You be the judge.”
He may have a point there, but what is to stop anyone starting a news blog in Peitermaritzburg? A quick scan of the latest edition and the news story can be read online for nothing, and the newspaper won’t benefit from any advertising revenue.
Personally I don’t think paywalls are the answer. I know in my newspapers’ areas we are competing with blogs, message boards, new online “good news” papers and various twitter feeds from new news sources, which would provide our current readership with something else to read for nothing.
New media strategist Steve Yelvington sums up my personal view in his blog Thinking about a paywall? Read this first, by pointing out the majority of regional and even national news consumers are searching for the story they find on our sites.
We have our regular readers, but are they loyal enough to pay for access?
Damon Keisow has taken a closer look at Yelvington’s analysis of online readership and asks where would publishers put the paywall? Surely we want to bring people in and keep them loyal, rather than exploit them. After all, local, regular readers are what advertisers want to reach in regional press.
Paywall watch has been launched on Online Journalism Blog’s Facebook group with responses to questions asked earlier version of this article.
Specialist content, premium added extras and RSS feeds to iGoogle and Netvibes pages have all been mentioned as paywall content. However, when it comes down to the fundamentals of mainstream news, the general opinion is news should remain free.
The questions are:
- What are people’s thoughts about Murdoch’s aim to remove free news from the internet?
- Have you paid to read through a paywall and why?
- Do you know of or work for a publication operating a paywall? Does it work? What makes it work?