I recently read a blog written by Fraser Nelson on 26th December 2010 for the Spectator, on the subject of paywalls. Fraser starts out by saying:
Yesterday, The Times produced its first Christmas Day edition for more than a century – since, that is, newsagents started taking that day off. The jewel in that edition was a wonderfully spirited piece from my Spectator colleague Matthew Parris about the importance of paywalls. I fervently believe in them, and regard them as the only hope for this sharply contracting industry. But over to Matthew:“‘Sorry, I can’t read you anymore, but I refuse on principle to subscribe now that there’s a paywall,’ these muppets whine. ‘On principle?’ I reply. ‘What principle?’ As they fumble for an argument, I interrupt: ‘Look, maybe the money is a bit tight at present: I quite understand that. In fact, if it would cheer you up, I’d be glad to get you a drink at the bar – except that there’s a paywall in pubs and bars in this country. So there’s obviously a principle to be upheld here… Greedy graspers that they are, they take the view that as they’ve had to shell out for the wines and spirits they serve and pay the bar staff’s wages, they actually want customers to make a contribution to their costs. Unbelievable, isn’t it?’”…………..……………….“If a newspaper loses income from readers who now take the electronic edition free, then it can’t indefinitely stay in business. To have a future, 21st century papers must find new sources of income… Unless paid subscription works, our kind of journalism is doomed.”As a consumer, I love free journalism. As a writer, it’s a great tool that multiplies the readership of what you produce. But as Matthew says, it is doomed. Online advertising has not covered the cost of free articles.
Now, I know this is not a popular point to make amongst CoffeeHousers. Our blogs are free. But look ten years into the future, and you see digital editions fast replacing print………….So, as Matthew says, the choice for my industry is clear: either we manage to make digital subscription work, or game over.
This is not print. It is a different ball game. The internet primarily is a phenomenon which enables one not only to get a bigger readership, but to publish freely without gatekeepers. The established media only saw it as more readers, not more and better competition. The reaction of the established media has been late and inadequate. Move on, your model is dead.
I don’t expect free journalism but the problem is the price. The pay wall is truly a wall that seems too difficult to climb over.
I will never subscribe to any paywall. I prefer to get my news from the radio and other media, not forgetting blogs which keep me much more informed.
The Matthew Parris logic is flawed by the way. I can choose to enter a pub etc and buy a pint. If I subscribe to The Times etc I have to stay with them for at least a month, the money is taken up front and I am trapped.
You surely choose to read a publication because you like the content. If you do choose to read it, why would you expect to do so gratis?
Currently the paywall is the equivalent of paying to see the Bearded Lady at the carnival. You feel curious, you pay, you go in, you come out, you feel cheated. That may change, with time, but as with most innovations their practical use tends to evolve rather than be promulgated by theory. Paywalls may turn out to be the internet equivalent of walking in front of a car with a red flag.
Maybe newspaper and magazine publishers need to get together and devise an industry-wide “pay per article” system.
Well of course, we’d all pay for content, if it was the content we wanted.
Newspapers need to understand that many people do not want to read one paper from cover to cover, but to read what several papers of different hues have to say about a few topics. Until they, or an independent supplier, can get in place a system that charges the user per article, and then provides the user with an aggregate bill for the month………..
Murdoch expects us to pay not only the same daily price but to commit for a whole month, something our newsagents never asked us to do……..so no, Matthew Parris, it’s not the principle of paying for something that people are objecting to; it’s the principle of not being ripped off
We all appreciate that beer costs money, and publicans need to earn a crust, but if there is a pub next door offering free booze, which one are we going to go to?
I’d happily pay 25p a time to read the four names I posted above though, which depending on the number of articles a week may work out about the same. It’s just that I’d feel I’m paying for what I want, rather than paying for 99% complete garbage to get to the 1% that interests me.
Finally, if more newspapers follow The Times there will be a huge demand for writers who can attract new subscribers and pay-per-article readers. Columnists who can do this on a regular basis will stand to make an awful lot of money.