Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rupert Murdoch is not daft

Whereas the decision to ask for payment for reading The Times, Sun and News of the Screws website will doubtless reduce readership of those websites, I am sure the modelling has been done to indicate that it would boost profits (or reduce losses) for News International when compared to the current (virtually) all-advertising model.

Even if a relatively small number pay for some services, it could make the whole thing profitable. Remember, Rupert Murdoch and his company are very experienced at managing subscription services via Sky.

And it is surely inevitable that eventually more and more newspaper websites will require money in the meter to read. We are kidding ourselves if we think we can go on enjoying free access to such enormous banks of crafted journalism. Push will soon come to shove. It must be hurting their sales of hard copy papers.

That could mean some pay-for-articles (as the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal have had for some time) or paying subscriptions for entire sites.

But I do think we need to remember that there are different tiers of newspaper quality.

At one end you have simple ticker tape news services, giving basic news stories. I suspect such services will remain free.

At the top end you have beautifully crafted (or indeed not-so-beautifully crafted) opinion pieces and highly researched journalistic exercises, which I think we will increasing see becoming pay-for services.

The problem for newspapers is likely to be for those in the middle: offering not basic wire services but not particularly well crafted journalism that people will pay for.

By the way, this dilemma facing newspapers is not new. If you take my local newspaper the Newbury Weekly News, they have never allowed some of their "crown jewels" to appear on the internet. For example, the only way you can read their letters pages (which I have heard are very popular) is by buying the physical newspaper.

By the way, I can't imagine myself paying to read Murdoch papers but I have paid a very small amount (a couple of quid) to use an existing pay-for Murdoch service, which was to delve into the absolutely superb Times archive, which goes back about 20-30 years. I found some very rare articles which were from well before the advent of the full-on internet.

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