In a guest post, blogger Tim Kevan explains why he resigned from The Times over the paywall
Back in early 2007 I had been practising as a lawyer for some nine years. But I’d always dreamt of living by the sea and the surf and maybe even writing a novel. I just couldn’t quite see how it could be done.When I finally sat down to write a legal thriller what popped out instead was a legal comedy about a fictional young barrister doing pupillage.
I called him BabyBarista which was a play on words based on his first impression being that his coffee-making skills were probably as important to that year as any forensic legal abilities he may have. I wrote it as a blog and was hopeful it might raise a few smiles but in my wildest dreams I hadn’t imagined quite the extraordinary set of circumstances which then unfolded with The Times offering to host the blog and Bloomsbury Publishing of Harry Potter fame offering to make it into a book.
Since then the first book came out last August and was originally called BabyBarista and the Art of War. It is being re-issued in August under the new title Law and Disorder and the sequel is due out next May.
I was also continuing to publish my blog on The Times until May this year when it became clear that even blogs were going to go behind their new paywall.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely no problem with the decision to start charging. They can do what they like. But I didn’t start my blog for it to be the exclusive preserve of a limited few subscribers. I wrote it to entertain whosoever wishes to read it.
So I decided to resign from The Times, a decision I made with regret and despite continuing to be grateful for their having hosted my blog for three years.
The problem was that I simply didn’t think many people would have read my blog stuck not only behind a registration wall but also with a fee for entrance on top of that. I also think that it could have been avoided since there are so many innovative ways of making cash online and the decision to plump for an across-the-board blanket subscription over the whole of their content makes them look like a big lumbering giant, unable to cope with the diversification of the media brought about by online content, blogging, Facebook, Twitter – the list is endless. Canute-like in their determination to stop the tide of free content and using a top down strategy which for the moment at least appears to lack any flexibility.
A more sophisticated approach might have been to keep the existing platform and content free but to start charging for different types of premium versions such as iPhone or iPad apps or more in depth and specialist content. This would have maintained the all-important traffic whilst at the same time allowing tem to charge those who had no problem with paying.
But even beyond the unlikelihood of people paying for news that they can get elsewhere, the other more general problem is that in my view many writers are not simply driven by money. They are bright enough to earn more elsewhere. They write to get things off their chest, to entertain and to influence. To be a part of the debate. In the game and definitely not sitting on the sidelines failing to be heard. Maybe not quite the vain, power-hungry ego-maniacs that some would have us believe. But they want a voice. They write an article they want people emailing it to their friends, posting it on Facebook or Twitter or linking to it on their blog. Of course people can still put links now. But it seems unlikely they’ll do it so readily when they know that they’re likely to leave many people feeling frustrated at not being able to access the content in one click and for free.
As for me, I set up my own site for the blog and have also been taken on by The Guardian. With over thirty million users a month, not only do they have what I consider to be the most vibrant and innovative online presence of any of the national newspapers but also what in my view is now the very best law section in the country.
I’m also particularly impressed by the way they have introduced the idea of partnering with bloggers such as myself whereby I can retain my own website and identity as well working directly with them. It’s a paradigm-shift away from the old-school need for ownership and exclusivity and is definitely the way forward for traditional media to harness the power and energy of the web’s creative forces.