Sunday, 28 March 2010

The great subscription firewall of Rupert Murdoch

Meanwhile, pursuing a very different business model, News International are pressing ahead with their stated intention of making the websites of The Times and The Sunday Times subscription only. While one can see the logic (apparently The Times alone makes a loss of £240,000 per day) I don't see how this is going to work out for them. The pricing is reasonable enough - £1 per day or £2 for a weekly subscription is very competitive considering the cost of the physical format itself - but it will fail for practical reasons, not financial. Quite frankly, I don't value the journalism of their papers so highly that, in the event that I want quick access to information via the internet, I'd be prepared to reach for my debit card and go through the PayPal process (or whatever method they opt for) to read their coverage. Breaking news? I'll go to the BBC, or The Guardian, thanks. Or Google News.

News International have admitted that, yes, obviously, they are going to lose millions of visitors to their sites, but are banking on a small, committed readership happy to pay for the online content. Good luck to them, but this is doomed to fail. Increasingly, our attention is drawn to news and features by the proliferation of hyperlinking: blogs, Twitter, Facebook and even old-fashioned email enable the easy embedding of links to share with other people. By building a subscription firewall, The Times and The Sunday Times are effectively removing themselves from the global conversation.

There is an argument (and a very strong one) that the future of quality journalism depends on newspapers being able to defend their revenue streams. Clearly the losses posted by The Times (and pretty much all papers) are not sustainable in the long term. We live in an age where people (particularly younger people) are so used to free, unrestrained access to news that the idea of paying for it is anathema to them. The future survival of our print media depends on finding a solution to this conundrum - but subscription firewalls aren't the answer I'm afraid.

Murdoch will soon be back to the drawing board on this one.