Wired stands by story after Guardian denies iPhone app paywall plans

If, like me, you’re a regular reader of The Guardian‘s media coverage, or you listen to their Media Talk podcast, you might have been surprised to have read the following in the February 2010 UK edition of Wired:

The Guardian… hopes users of it’s £2.39 (iPhone) app will pay extra for privileged access to in-demand columnists. (p.89)

This seems to fly in the face of what I know about The Guardian‘s digital strategy. The Guardian have always seemed to be staunch opponents of paywalls, and Emily Bell, Director of Digital Content at Guardian News & Media, always seems to me to take a particularly strong line that she doesn’t want to charge for online content. I asked her to comment on Wired‘s claim. “I’m not sure where the ‘columnists’ assumption comes from, not us, that’s for sure. Bit off beam” she told me on Twitter (incidentally the ‘columnists’ in question include David Rowan, Wired‘s Editor, who co-wrote the piece).

So, order is restored to my universe: The Guardian is still the bastion of free online content, creatively looking for another way to make digital pay. But wait, what’s this? Wired have weighed back in, with this tweet:

@jonhickman @emilybell Came from a senior Guardian exec who demonstrated the app in person, actually

So, are The Guardian really thinking about paywalls? Was this loose talk? Has there been a misunderstanding? Is someone fibbing?

I don’t know, but I think it matters. The Guardian‘s online brand seems to be about free: free data, free access, free comment. If there’s a grain of truth in Wired‘s claim, what does it tell us about the future of online access?

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5 thoughts on “Wired stands by story after Guardian denies iPhone app paywall plans

  1. Pete Ashton

    Since this is all speculation, how about this?

    Guardian Media Group (which is bigger than The Guardian) is exploring new ways to sell content. Their Guardian iPhone app has been a success so they’re looking at ways to apply those lessons to other things they do. In-app purchases are an interesting thing so they mock up a version of the Guardian app to do them for columnists, since that fits the paid content conceptual model rather well (even though it makes no sense in reality).

    Doesn’t mean they’re actually going to do it for Guardian content but they might for, say, some of the Emap publications.

    Reply
  2. Stuart Harrison

    I was thinking this when the app was launched. Although I’m not 100% comfortable with paywalls (they’re an old media solution to a new media ‘problem’), I’d happily pay a nominal fee (say 20 – 30p) for offline access to that day’s edition of the Guardian. It’s a lot less than I’d pay if I actually bought a paper, plus I’m supporting quality journalism, so I get a warm fuzzy glow in my belly.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Older consumers start getting into SMS (but for how much longer?)

  4. John S. James

    An in-between approach could be called mass sponsorship. Following Harrison’s comment re 20-30p for online access to a day’s Guardian, let anybody buy any number of accesses (say 100 for £20, or less with a bulk discount) and get a special URL that allows 100 people to view free. The sponsor can include a message to the 100 — and also give out the URL selectively, through social networks as desired. (This may work better for permanent access to a single investigative article, which some sponsors may want to promote — and for music and other digital art marketed independently.)

    There’s more to it, and I’ve developed a (hopefully) rights-free design at http://www.RepliCounts.org I’m looking for discussion on where to go with this.

    Reply
  5. how to become a poli

    I was thinking this when the app was launched. Although I’m not 100% comfortable with paywalls. Their Guardian iPhone app has been a success so they’re looking at ways to apply those lessons to other things they do.

    Reply

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