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?