Re: The Indy
- From: Mark Goodge <usenet@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 19 Jul 2010 19:50:53 +0100
On Sun, 18 Jul 2010 22:03:34 +0100, Sn!pe put finger to keyboard and typed:
Mark Goodge <usenet@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
[much to be agreed with]
Columnists and publishers have a symbiotic relationship:
they each need the other and the success of their partnership depends on
both being able to supply what the other wants most. Writers who used to
write for an audience of millions, but who now find themselves addressing a
few tens of thousands, are unlikely to be happy with the deal. I wouldn't
be at all surprised to see some of The Times' big names jump ship soon to
other papers. But unless the paywall funded sites can deliver better
quality writing than the freewebs, no-one is going to have any incentive to
pay. So to maintain the quality, NewsCorp is going to have to pay over the
odds to keep its most attractive contributors.
It's just occurred to me: I wonder how many WebTimes readers who had
given up the dead tree version because they could read their newspaper
of choice on-line have now reverted to buying the paper.
That's possible, although I suspect that it's a fairly small number. I
can't remember where I read it - it may even have been earlier in this
thread, for that matter - but a very good point that's been made somewhere
else is that online readers are far less brand-loyal than paper readers.
That's at least partly because most paper readers only have time to read
one newspaper in a day, and tend to buy the same one each day as much out
of habit as anything else. There's also a tendency, when you've paid for
it, to want to get your money's worth by reading all of it. But online
readers can swap between different sites without needing either to pay more
or waste time reading bits that are somewhat less interesting.
Before the Times paywall went up, I tended to read online news from three
sources: The Times, the Guardian and BBC news. That's not so much because
of any brand loyalty to any of the providers, but simply because they were
the three best UK-based news sites on the web. The Guardian website is
still one of the best, and so, despite the rather garish redesign, is the
BBC. The Times isn't, any more. So I now tend to do most of my online news
reading at just two sites.
It must be an
interesting equation, balancing web readership and an uncertain revenue
stream against the proceeds of declining hard-copy circulation.
It is, and I think that the publishers have a right to try to make money
from their websites any way they want to. I entirely agree with David
Mitchell's comments in this article, in which he argues that there's
nothing immoral or somehow "incorrect" about charging for online content,
it's merely a business decision which will either work or fail:
Where I think that The Times has got it wrong is that they've made the
wrong business decision, and accompanied it by an even worse technical
decision. As I said in my previous post, the new Times website isn't even
very good, from a website perspective. Even if they hadn't started to
charge for it, I'd have stopped reading it after the redesign. The other
mistake they've made is in putting everything behind the paywall - you
can't even get a sample of the content without subscribing. By contrast,
the other two big-name online publishers which charge for access - the
Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal - both allow a limited amount
of access for free, so you can still read the occasional article without
paying. And both the FT and WSJ separate out their blogged content from the
main content, with only the latter being chargeable - unlike The Times,
which wants you to pay even to read their staff blogs. Plus, of course, the
subscribers to the FT online aren't really paying to read news, they're
paying for dedicated and highly specialist content which simply isn't
available anywhere else.
The Times might have succeeded if they'd gone down the WSJ path, or even
the more restrictive FT path. But, as it is, they haven't just cut
themselves off from non-paying customers, they've effectively cut
themselves off from the web - their site's robots.txt file doesn't merely
prevent indexing of anything inside the firewall, but also the public front
page. So none of the headlines or teaser paragraphs are going to show up in
Google or Bing.
Another really, really stupid thing they've done is to stop sending out
daily email updates. I get a daily email from the other main quality
papers, with links to their current headlines. Sometimes, I click on them
and go to the relevant site to read them. I used to get one from the Times,
but that stopped when they paywall started. So now I don't get any daily
prompt to even think about their website. For all I can tell, it might just
as well have dropped off the Internet completely.