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Welcome to a landmark week for newspaper publishing. This week saw the first step in the introduction of The Times paywall, with the launch of a redesigned website at www.thetimes.co.uk.
The sites will be free-to-view to readers who register for the next month, after which all content bar the sites homepages will be invisible.
While the old website remains up and running at www.timesonline.co.uk, this will be phased out over the next four weeks as we head into July. The decision by The Times to make readers pay for content online hasn’t exactly resulted in people rushing to praise News International and the Murdochs. Everyone from Gordon Brown to News International itself, who estimate that making people pay £1 per day, or £2 for a full week, will result in 90 per cent of their online readership melting away, have hardly given the paywall a glowing welcome.
A survey this week by media law firm Wiggin also found that 71 per cent of respondents wouldn’t pay for any news service because there was enough free content online.
The latest complaint came from one of the paper’s popular bloggers, Tim Kevan, who has withdrawn his popular ‘Baby Barista’ blog from the website, saying that he didn’t start writing with the intention of only ‘a few limited subscribers’ being able to see his work. Going on, Kevan says that the paywall will be ‘a disaster’ and that trying to stop people accessing the whole of their content for free is a ‘a top down strategy which makes even the Post Office look dynamic’.
The argument in defence of charging, made by Times editor James Harding, is that giving content away for free undermines the value of journalism – that charging can help generate the cash needed to invest in reporting.
I wonder if the journalists working on the newly-freesheet Evening Standard feel undervalued. As someone who works on a freesheet myself, I know that I certainly don’t. I value talking to my readers, and I value finding out the information that they want and passing it on to them. Above all, I value seeing my work in print – be that paid for or not paid for.
People may argue that The Times is a world away from a publication like Retail Express, but in the integrity of the journalist’s views and desire to get a story before someone else there isn’t a huge difference.
Retailers on the ground should be watching the outcome of this decision very closely. From The Times own predictions, anything less than 90 per cent of people abandoning the site will be a success. Will this lead to other papers following suit? Who knows.
The Times’ decision to start charging won’t affect hard-copy sales in any way for now. What it will make people think about is the proliferation of news options available online, which could drag them away from the actual papers. It’s all conjecture at the moment, but it’s very interesting to see what will happen when that paywall finally falls into place in 30 days.
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