For anyone involved in the production of news there is one news story that is commanding a lot of attention. The Times newspaper have erected their internet paywall – and news organisations are all on the edge of their seats waiting for the result.
As newspapers look for ways to monetize their online content, has the Times found a way to tap into the wallets of the British public? Or have they tried to stop a drought by blocking the water supply?
The statistics aren’t looking too encouraging for News International – traffic has inevitably gone down and more people are heading over to rival newspapers. For the first time ever the Independent news website has received more hits than the Times. Furthermore, the people that have decided to pay for access aren’t spending as much time on the website as usual.
However, there is another way of looking at the paywall.
A poll conducted by Harris, which investigated who would and who wouldn’t pay for Times content, has been mapped against newspaper website traffic figures provided by ABC. If looked at optimistically, the results show that charging for content could halve the newspapers annual loss.
This could point to a defining moment that will fire up a commercial revolution for the business of news.
But if looked at pessimistically then the numbers don’t add up.
That’s the view expressed by social media guru Clay Shirky in an interview with the Guardian. Shirky goes on to argue that News International and Rupert Murdoch are going to fail because they are only interested in providing news to their “customers” – instead of the public as a whole.
Murdoch’s view is opposed to the ethos of the internet – an ethos of community, creativity and freedom.
There is no way to be sure which way it will go – but I think the paywall will fail.
Why pay when it is free elsewhere? If every news organization had began charging for access together then it might have worked – but going it alone has only given the Times a disadvantage over the other players in the game.
And, to the consumer, this paywall shows that News International only care about money – something that others have taken efforts to prove they are not.
The Guardian has clearly outlined that they have no intention of charging for content. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger supports free news and sets his newspapers agenda in opposition to that of the Times. He argues that it may make sense from a business perspective to charge for content, but not from an editorial perspective. Because of this ideological difference there will always be quality free content available as an alternative.
But what I see as the major mistake the Times has made is blocking its content from being discoverable by Google. Cutting its links to the larger conversation of where the internet revolution is heading will hinder the Times ability to grow. They will remain a quiet voice on the sidelines of big news invents.
Or maybe this is the begining of the end for the free internet – and a successful commercial model will force others to follow.
The way this is shaping up suggests that an ideological battle is about to commence. A free and open internet against a charged and closed one. I know what side I am on.