So, after months of deliberating and speculation, Murdoch has today come out and announced that access to The Times and Sunday Times’ online content will be charged as of June – with daily access for £1 and weekly for £2.
New websites will be launched in May for each title – replacing the existing timesonline portal – and it sounds like there’ll be limited free access to entice readers once the paid content sites launch.
That a major publication has come out with a paywall is hardly a surprise, but it is certainly high risk. The reception has been mixed – certainly if you simply consider the newspaper content on its own, it seems slightly extravagant to charge for what is currently free; that idea’s not going to get very far in the Dragon’s Den.
However, the Times has quietly upped the ante with its acquisition of digital partners and content providers and it could be these added ’membership’ style benefits which could tip the balance between simply paying for news content, and being part of an entertainment hub – the Times is certainly already associated with quality culture and cultural insight.
The major issue this development throws up however is that Murdoch, despite being something of a publishing leviathan, doesn’t own everything online, and if other newspaper publishers go down the same route, the market will become incredibly siloed and surely disenfranchise the customer. (We’ll not mention the problems having multiple access / subs to every newspaper would throw up for a PR Agency).
If key sites have to be individually paid for, it’s going to get very expensive very quickly for a consumer – and micro-payments will only work if there’s a unified platform to base the content on, (rather like a pre-paid Oyster card network for news), which of course doesn’t exist.
We’ve seen the problems similar approaches have encountered in the mobile space with the walled garden approach – surely content owners will have learnt its lessons here?
The internet has democratised information and made knowledge ‘free’ to an extent – does it really need to be boxed back up again?