Rupert has no chance until everyone joins the paywall revolution

The man with a stubborn plan

Everyone likes Alan Rusbridger don’t they? (Hi Alan, love your work) The main man at the Guardian is seen by many of us helpless, stumbling foals in this turbulent time in journo land as the shining light, the thoroughbred who will guide us….alright I’ll stop it now he has a lot to say about the future of journalism and a lot of people like what he says. Well, the pantomime villain of journo land, Ol’ Rupert Murdoch, can’t be such a big fan because it is Rusbridger and others in positions of influence that are stopping this paywall business being big business and becoming the future of journalism.

Red tops get pricey

As the News of the World website stopped serving us free exclusives for us to gorge on, and put a big debit card-operated lock on the fridge door I began to ponder, as many other writers have, on all this paywall business and that poor old Rupert just hasn’t got this one quite right has he? (Don’t listen to those haters though Rupert, I think you’re a top bloke.)

I can honestly say I have never been on the News of the World website (don’t scoff, I’m telling the truth) and sadly I will never know what treats I have been missing out on now the paywall has gone up. On this occasion my missing out on something isn’t because I’m a tight git, I am just not going to pay for something when I can get it for free elsewhere. Common sense really isn’t it? Any of the hot gossip or salacious celebrity titbits can be found on other paper websites; Rupert’s other red top, The Sun, for example. Bizarrely the free site had a link to its expensive sibling the other day…something not quite right in the PR department there.

Different style, same problem

Then there is The Times, with its shiny and, to be perfectly honest, stunning new online layout, blocked by the wall. (I’m envisaging a cartoon spoof of Rupert with a hard hat on and a trowel saying “come on Alan, tell that Scott Trust lot that this building walls is fun, like Lego only you get money out of it” whilst Rusbridger smirks as he hands out free copies of G2 to passers-by) Not even Rupert Everett sat in a cafe with his laptop makes us want to sign up but then that’s because we’re not all smarmy actors who can afford to sit in a café reading Caitlin Moran interviews all day. Don’t click on that last link if you want to read it, they make you pay you know.

Now, I was and still am when I’m buying a ‘broadsheet’ a Times reader, for no other real reason than I like the Game on Mondays and the way Simon Barnes talks about sport helps justify my obsession with it. But the paywall doesn’t make me reach for my wallet, I simply go to my browser and type in ‘The Gua…’ and hey presto, different writers, same broadsheet style only with a slightly trendier feel. I generalise but you all know what I am talking about because I imagine you have all had a similar reaction to the paywalls?

Many analysts say that despite the Guardian and Daily Mail’s dominance in the online stats department Rupert (Murdoch, not Everett) will stay strong with his paywall idea, but surely this is stubbornness to a naive and moronic level? As Roy Greenslade said at City this week when asked about paywalls, ‘once you start charging and it fails there is no Plan B, you just admit defeat and go to partial payment or make it free’. If Rupert is holding out until everyone joins in then he could be waiting a while because, as the paywall seems to be failing, why should they get involved? And as long as some papers still provide free online content then paywalls will continue to fail and so we go on, round and round like a dog chasing its tail.

Rupert is right though

The funniest part in all this paywall business is that, ultimately, that is where the future of journalism lies. Once someone works out a successful way of monetizing online content that’s it, we have lift off. Why is the future online? Because it’s what we all use now, if every newspaper charged then the paywall would, I believe, be much more successful. Of course there is the small problem of Rupert’s pesky arch enemy the BBC but in my opinion newspapers offer much more than the BBC who are the facts of a story. For the comment, satire and exclusives we (well I do) tend to look to the papers. Who knows the Beeb might even get involved with the paywall… calm down Rupert I said ‘might’.

For now though the gung-ho approach adopted by News International doesn’t seem to be working for The Times, who have seen web hits plummet and the News of the World are now expected to struggle. I believe the future of journalism lies with paid online content but until the Guardian and other newspapers get on board and everything becomes all for one and one for all, Rupert might just be stood alone atop his great big paywall.


About The Chancer
Tom is the former news and sport editor of Redbrick and also worked as the sport editor for The National Student. He has done work experience at local papers across the country and is currently studying the Newspaper Journalism MA at City University. He also co-writes the sport blog with The Student.

15 Responses to Rupert has no chance until everyone joins the paywall revolution

  1. Peter Demain says:

    (Pasted in from my comment at .)

    Actually this entire thing is not worth talking about…since I’m fixated on the worthless by nature here goes nothing. TLDR: Economics will sort out the issue in time…

    It’s rather like debating the price of cocoa and its derived products. Assuming you aren’t of the left-wing persuasion of limiting pricing it’s rather a meaningless debate since many factors – supply and demand, businesses colluding, stockpiles, quality of year’s harvest – determines the precise popularity and consumption of cocoa.

    It might be the price is stable or lowered if a business believes the profit maximization is found at a cheaper price: The ‘pile em’ high, sell em’ cheap’ phenomena. This, in theory, happens though exceptions abound for diverse reasons…in this case a dinosaur named Murdoch’s obstinancy.
    With news the product offered varies in other factors than an out-and-out good: Staff working on the news, the quality of the story ‘harvest’ and the biggest factor; supply and demand. If you can get news elsewhere for free (save for time spent having your eyes whored to by advertisments) why not receive it away from The Times paywall or whatever.

    It’s not hard. Any ethics, morals, abstract thought or theorizing on the issue is completely irrelevant since the economic reality holds all the cards while we’re interested observers watching the grand, disasterous poker game of old media’s decline similar to a rather drawn-out, pigheaded vaudeville.

    Tom wrote: The main man at the Guardian is seen by many of us helpless, stumbling foals in this turbulent time in journo land as the shining light, the thoroughbred who will guide us…

    Pooohh! Did somebody just open the suck-up jar? A multi-millionaire editor in his top job 15 years who appointed his daughter to write for his paper covertly and you call this bloke a lamb amongst the wolves with adjectives that would befit His Lord Jesus Christ?

    If anyone fits your description in lieu of Alan it’s graduates in this trade who emerge to a tough jobs market, officebound drudgery, and dream of getting a salary of £20,000. On the contrary a veteran journo on a cush salary with two cottages, who in turn utterly bungles a line at the last Election and has a low output of actual journalism himself still sits pretty in his job.

    Sorry Tom but you got it wrong here; with the Guardian‘s circulation declining as steadily as it is praising part of the GMG brass even ostensibly is no way to start an article on the future of print journalism.

    That paper does a lot of good work, but GMG’s high-ups’ contributions and performance relative to pay ain’t by any stretch ‘good’.

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

    • Oli Franklin says:

      Hugely agree with the points about the Guardian here, must say.

    • The Chancer says:

      First of all, any flattery from the suck-up jar was meant as a sarcastic dig at this industry, which as you point with Rusbridger giving his daughter a job, is about who you know. My hyperbolic flattery was NOT meant to be taken as genuine, hence the ‘alright I’ll stop it now’! I did do the same flattery at the end of the second par. Come on Pete, you’re a northern lad, surely you would know it is nearly impossible for us to be genuinely complimentary!
      Starting the post with this reference to Rusbridger was merely meant to, one, add a bit of humour and two, set up Rusbridger and Murdoch as names to which I could pin the debate of no paywall v paywall debate. In the end, I side with Murdoch and merely point out that Rusbridger and the Guardian have a lot of influence in this issue. Their work is good in relation to this debate because it is free! I never attempted to, nor do I want to talk about Guardian circulation or veteran journos with cushy salary and two cottages.

      • Peter Demain says:

        That occurred hence my appending ‘ostensibly’. As for the those other facts; it’s a quid pro quo world and I thought I’d pitch in some abundance to match yours. The executives’ use of cash relative to journalistic contribution is an elephant in the industry’s room: since we’re talking about a future cash model consider how in the decline the top brass become ever more a burden that journos lower down could – and should – speak of.

        Laying people off Trinity style can’t work forever. Paywalling will probably be around for awhile, but as Oliver pointed out the ubiquity of wires circulating news to ad-only sites is a technical hurdle that cannot be overcome straightforwardly. Also consider the whole filesharing phenomena – what’s to say a concerted, anonymous group can’t share a sub and paste or reword any unique content?

        That’s gone on for decades amongst lazier journalists who look to another publication, sometimes from long before and lift a story. If particularly unethical or self-serving they’ll claim it their own. With music, film, games and eBooks fair play online it isn’t a stretch that people will ‘leak’ the little unique non-PA content paywalled outlets make that’s deemed worthwhile.

        It’s worthwhile noting that many pronounced the paywalling dead whilst it was still in foetal form. Slashdot took an interest in it. Here’s a topic from a few days back about the NY Times’ “First click free” idea: NY Times Confident of First Click Free Paywalls..

        The other is closer to home about the great British ain’t-what-it-used-to-be The Times: Times Paywall Blocks 90% of Traffic.

        Further back in time are others; the comments on that website give an idea of ‘geek’ perspectives. Tech types are knowledgable and experienced online so I’d take their judgments into consideration more than most journalist’s who tend to dabble in a multitude of subjects. Jacks of all and whatnot.

        I’ve already a tenner riding on a paywall related bet. If anyone wants to propose a wager for that sum along the lines of being under/over a fairly concise traffic retention of a given wall in say…two months based off of recent figures then we can finally inject fun into this trite topic.

        Christmas is when the brandy and box wine offers are on after all.

        Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

  2. Never mind the paywall, how about all Cityhacks chuck in a couple of quid and share a login? Can The Times actually regulate against lots of people using the same details? Wannabe Hacks, please look into this. Thank you.

  3. Oli Franklin says:

    The debate rages. The thing is, the paywall isn’t actually a complete flop, and there is as yet no concrete information as to the actual finance of the experiment. Even if their uniques collapse, are they going to mind if they make more money per hit than a ad-supplemented site?

    For example, the Guardian – how much money do they make per NEW unique user per day (say, off a Twitter link) – call that one page impression? If Murdoch can generate content that users – particularly international users – will pay the day’s fee for, then it becomes more efficient. And if he can do that, he can likely rope in repeated users.

    However to emulate the Economist/WSJ etc., the Times will have to produce more cutting edge, unique, niche stories and the multimedia to back that up, otherwise noone will pay. The free sites then become the big issue for Murdoch. Case in point this weekend is the Rooney story – a News of The World exclusive, but thanks to PA syndicated all over the world to free websites within hours. How can you fight that?

    • Oli Franklin says:

      Oh also, yes I am a subscriber, although I confess that I’ve rarely used it since the first investigation. All archive stuff for research and cuttings is free, so I may well cancel it…

      • The Chancer says:

        Out of interest Oli, why did you subscribe? Were you a Times reader before?

  4. Yes I believe others need to jump on board, but I can’t see it happening.

    What News International can do to help itself however, is allow readers to create their own niche paper within the website. A micro-payment closer to 20p will do more to encourage subscribers, even if it’s for less of the package. If 20p gives you The Times’ news and business but not arts and puzzles, or NoW’s showbiz and sport, I’m guessing at least five times the number of people will be willing.

    Well that’s what I’ve written about on my blog today, my micro-payment plan to save online journalism. (Shameless plug)

    • The Chancer says:

      That is something which Roy Greenslade suggested, a nice way to ease the reader into the idea of paying for online content, I would certainly be more keen to for that approach than an all-or-nothing stance. Surely though, especially with Mr Murdoch, The Times can’t turn to this partial payment without excepting defeat which may put the paywall plans back even further?

  5. I agree with you that the use of a paywall seems like a likely move for all national publications – it’s a smart way for them to adjust to the advances of modern technology in this multi-media age whilst still giving them the opportunity to turn a profit, however marginal this may be. Websites which have something truly original to offer, such as The Guardian, will always have dedicated followers and therefore those who will be willing to fork out in order to jump the paywall. However, while the majority are able to source their news from free sites, I doubt that Rupert’s paywalls will yield the financial increase that he may have been hoping for.
    I don’t see the BBC as competition for newspaper websites; in my opinion it offers an entirely different portrayal of the news without any of the intriguing blogs and other added extras that are found newspaper websites.

    At the end of the day, the majority of people will always be unwilling to pay for anything that they might be able to get for free. Particularly in our current economic climate. Until all websites put up their own version of the paywall, It’s doubtful that Rupert will see huge financial gain from his sites.

  6. Ben Edwards says:

    I also agree with you Tom, pay walls will not work unless there is consensus – and the BBC is always going to stand in the way of that (personally I would not be adverse to the BBC dropping its web operation and reinvesting that money on broadcast stuff, thus solving the problem of the BBC offering up its online content for free).. I don’t like Rusbridger’s attitude on pay walls – he argues that online content should remain free in the interests of the ‘open and collaborative’ sharing of information (or what he calls the global conversation that the internet means we are all engaged in).. which is far too abstract and idealistic, and completely ignores the fact that most newspapers (those that are not propped up by trust funds) need to make money to survive.. if Rusbridger is happy to dole out his content online for free, why should he expect people to pay £1 for his paper – are we just paying for the dead tree it is printed on? Good journalism costs money, and readers need to be reminded of that… giving content away for free distorts that view. So I applaud Murdoch for having the guts to do what everybody else should be doing. Good luck to him.

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  8. aulelia says:

    If anyone could do a paywall, it could be the raft of women’s magazines and I am really surprised the likes of Vogue + Harper’s Bazaar don’t have paywalls.

    Magazines can weather this storm better than newspaper, and those niche mags that IPC has sold like Cage & Aviary Birds, I can see them being goldmines for online paywalls because the niches are so detailed you can’t trust a blogger to write about them.

    Kagem Tibaijuka

  9. George says:

    As a more general point, I think one of the key aspects of introducing paywalls for online content is the prevention of 3rd party monetization of such content. Sites such as newsnow and essentially any search engine would claim the freedom to crawl anything so that they can be the entry point for the web. In many ways they are already, but in the interest of protecting and paying the authors of such content, I think paywalls cannot exclusively be regarded as a negative thing – despite the fact it protects mr murdoch’s moneybags.

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