Early Indications Say Paywall For The Times Is A Dreadful Failure

from the no-surprise-there dept

Well, this will hardly surprise anyone, but as we predicted, Rupert Murdoch's new paywall for the Times is not looking so hot right now. Of course, there are no official stats (in part because Murdoch is hiding them, Michael Wolff (who is well connected in the Murdoch world, and wrote an entire book about the guy) says that his sources are reporting that almost no one is signing up to pay for the new site, and even those grandfathered in thanks to a paper subscription aren't using the site. As one of his sources explained, the new site is "an empty world."

Wolff's piece makes a few other important, but not surprising, points. He notes that journalists won't like being in such a world (and we've already seen some jump ship. But, he also notes that this makes The Times a lot less attractive as a place for folks to go with breaking stories:
A Murdoch and Fleet Street veteran with whom I've been corresponding about the paywall reported to me on his recent conversation with an A-list entertainment publicist: "What was really interesting to me was that this person volunteered a blinding realization. 'Why would I get any of my clients to talk to the Times or the Sunday Times if they are behind a paywall? Who can see it? I can't even share a link and they aren't on search. It's as though their writers don't exist anymore.'"
Of course, some reporters might note that they don't need or want publicists anyway. But, from the standpoint of reporters being able to get a good quote from someone, it seems like most PR people/publicists will go where the traffic actually is, rather than an empty walled garden.

The other point that Wolff brings up is a point that we've raised numerous times before: the way many people interact with news these days is they want to "interact" with it. They don't want to just passively "consume" it. But the whole concept of the paywall is to passively consume it. I was thinking about that as I watched this promo video that The Times put out to try to get people to subscribe to the paywall. As the person who sent it to me noted, you keep waiting for the reporters to turn to the screen and say "Please! Help me! Subscribe or Rupert will shoot me! I have a family!" But the other telling thing is that many of the reporters focus on how they can use this new-fangled "web" thing to deliver news in interesting ways. There's very little mention of actually interacting with the community at all (one reporter mentions it, but that's it). To everyone else, it's still very much about "we are the experts, you take what we give you."

We already know that with a similar experiment, the newspaper Newsday in New York got all of 35 outside subscribers. You have to believe that The Times is doing at least somewhat better than that. The question is how much... and (more importantly) how will they adjust? In the meantime, I'm curious if folks from The Times are still standing by their prediction that newspapers who don't follow in their footsteps will go out of business.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    vivaelamor (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 12:18pm

    Not much of an attempt

    From the comments on their '10 new features' promo video I gather that the few who have subscriptions are less than thrilled by the lack of an option to remember their login. To me that speaks volumes about how much thought they put into this move, not even taking measures to ensure the new mandatory login is as painless as possible.

    Plus, they list 'real name' comments as a feature. I would hope that the majority of people, being as barely privacy aware as they are, would not view losing the option of anonymity as a good thing. They're likely to have few enough people using their comment system as it is, do they really potentially want to discourage them from posting in any way. How hard could it be to moderate a pay-walled site.

     

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  2.  
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    NAMELESS ONE, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 12:56pm

    no no its perfect

    keep going LOL

     

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  3.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:06pm

    I guess I am going to have to pay the bets soon ...

    A while back I started a running bet On how many subscriptions the times of London would get. I guess I am going to be paying for someones Times of London subscription, and a techdirt insider subscription soon.

    Hoo-frakin-ah!!

     

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  4.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:15pm

    Re: I guess I am going to have to pay the bets soon ...

    There should have been a prop bet:

    [x]There will be less subscribers to the Times' paywall than people who place bets with you

    I'd have taken that....

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:18pm

    "we've already seen some jump ship" - actually, you have seen 1 blog writer jump ship. "some" would imply more than one.

     

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  6.  
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    Frankie, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:22pm

    Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    Oh, where do I begin. Michael Wolff runs Newser and Newser doesn't pay reporters. Newser wants to get its content for free and Newser can't get content for free if real newspapers with real salaries start putting stuff behind paywalls. So Michael Wolff has a real incentive to spread rumors to bolster his own business.

    And the Newsday story about 35 subscribers is misreported. The newspaper was charging $30/month for the electronic edition and $25/month for the dead tree edition that came with a free subscription to the electronic edition. So you had to pay $5 extra per month to stop them from throwing a newspaper on your front yard. As you might imagine, not many people took this choice.

    This, btw, wasn't a bad idea. Newsday makes plenty of money from print ads and these ads subsidize the subscription price more than the electronic ads.

    Next time why don't you just print some other unfounded thing like Bill Gates guessing that this "Mac thing is just a fad".

     

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  7.  
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    Free Capitalist (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:24pm

    Re:

    Please subscribe to the Times and report back to us on how many reporters are still working there. There is no other way to get a direct measurement, and we need a brave, well-funded soul to put some feet on the ground.

     

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  8.  
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    Ron Rezendes (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:26pm

    RE: AC and his/her superpowers

    "actually, you have seen 1 blog writer jump ship."

    That's pretty impressive that you know what other's have seen!
    Unless of course you're a Siamese twin then it might make some sense but, only most of the time since you could conceivably look in opposite directions.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:27pm

    Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    So, no one's going along with it, but that doesn't make it a bad idea?

     

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  10.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:31pm

    Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    "the Newsday story about 35 subscribers is misreported. "

    How is the fact that only 35 people subscribed mis reported? They got 35 "NEW" subscribers for the bargin basment price of 2 million dollars. It doesnt matter how may previous dead tree subscribers choose not to move to online only.

    Does that remind anyone else of the monetary returns on a RIAA lawsuits?

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:43pm

    About Michael Wolff

    "Michael Wolff (who is well connected in the Murdoch world, and wrote an entire book about the guy)"

    Correct. But it's also worth noting that a column at The Observer (Originally from "The Guardian") offers this perspective: "Mr. Murdoch took objection with his biography"

    It just depends if you laugh off the criticism, and continue marching forward, or decide to something with it. The news business is a commodity these days, but the value is in hiring socialists to police the community, moderating comments, and calling trolls out for jerks. Trolls really like being called jerks.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:45pm

    I agree with Hepaestus

    "Michael Wolff (who is well connected in the Murdoch world, and wrote an entire book about the guy)"

    Correct. But it's also worth noting that a column at The Observer (Originally from "The Guardian") offers this perspective: "Mr. Murdoch took objection with his biography"

    It just depends if you laugh off the criticism, and continue marching forward, or decide to something with it. The news business is a commodity these days, but the value is in hiring socialists to police the community, moderating comments, and calling trolls out for jerks. Trolls really like being called jerks.

     

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  13.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:49pm

    Re: About Michael Wolff

    Correct. But it's also worth noting that a column at The Observer (Originally from "The Guardian") offers this perspective: "Mr. Murdoch took objection with his biography"

    Doesn't change the fact that he's well-connected with people at the company. I wasn't suggesting he got the scoop from Murdoch himself.

     

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  14.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    Oh, where do I begin

    At the beginning, of course.

    Michael Wolff runs Newser and Newser doesn't pay reporters. Newser wants to get its content for free and Newser can't get content for free if real newspapers with real salaries start putting stuff behind paywalls. So Michael Wolff has a real incentive to spread rumors to bolster his own business.

    That makes no sense, actually. If I were Michael Wolff I'd want more people to put up paywalls, because then I'd stay free and re-report all the news that's behind paywalls for free. He'd just need to buy a few cheap subscriptions and get all that traffic...

    And the Newsday story about 35 subscribers is misreported. The newspaper was charging $30/month for the electronic edition and $25/month for the dead tree edition that came with a free subscription to the electronic edition. So you had to pay $5 extra per month to stop them from throwing a newspaper on your front yard. As you might imagine, not many people took this choice.

    Not "misreported" at all. In fact, we made that point at the time. But the question is how many *new* subscribers did it net them, and the answer appears to be not very many.

    This, btw, wasn't a bad idea. Newsday makes plenty of money from print ads and these ads subsidize the subscription price more than the electronic ads.


    That's only if you look at the world as static, not dynamic. Cutting off your future because the diminishing market today gives you more money is pretty short-sighted, don't you think?

    Next time why don't you just print some other unfounded thing like Bill Gates guessing that this "Mac thing is just a fad".

    I'll leave the misguided sarcasm to you.

     

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  15.  
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    btrussell (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 2:40pm

    "'Why would I get any of my clients to talk to the Times or the Sunday Times if they are behind a paywall? Who can see it? I can't even share a link and they aren't on search. It's as though their writers don't exist anymore.'""

    More copyright laws will act exactly as a paywall.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 3:17pm

    Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    Frankie YoYo are you trying to say the U.K. Times is at the forefront of the wave of the future and they are a success?

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 3:26pm

    Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    Frankie YoYo are you trying to say the U.K. Times is at the forefront of the wave of the future and they are a success?

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2010 @ 3:31pm

    Re: Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    Does that remind anyone else of the monetary returns on a RIAA lawsuits?


    This reminded me that the scum from the RIAA is trying to spin the low monetary returns as some victory, because they say it was not about the money but about reducing piracy which they say they accomplish.

    That is why they so desperately want more laws.

     

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  19.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Jul 16th, 2010 @ 5:16pm

    Where did we see this before?

    "'Why would I get any of my clients to talk to the Times or the Sunday Times if they are behind a paywall?"

    here:
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090708/1723035490.shtml

     

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  20.  
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    Frankie, Jul 17th, 2010 @ 8:29am

    Re: Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    "That makes no sense, actually. If I were Michael Wolff I'd want more people to put up paywalls, because then I'd stay free and re-report all the news that's behind paywalls for free. He'd just need to buy a few cheap subscriptions and get all that traffic..."

    Boy, you really don't get it, do you. If Newser links to an open website, the people who go to Newser think, "Gosh, Newser is saving me some time and finding me the best stories. I can just click on this headline and get what I want."

    But if all of the good stories are behind a paywall, there's nothing for a Newser user to click upon. I like how you think that Michael Wolff can just "rereport" everything. That's easier than doing original reporting, but even that requires more work that Mr. Wolff wants to do.

    If there's nothing to click upon, Newser seems thin and empty. If Murdoch leaves it all out there, Wolff can pretend to have a fat, full website with doing little work.

    Sheesh. It has nothing to do with coolness or dorkiness. Sure, paywalls are a pain, but the newspapers don't have a choice. It doesn't how much they drink your nutty Koolaide. They can't make the salaries appear out of thin air, no matter how many empty clicks they get from Mr. Wolff. So if they don't have the paywall they go out of business. The paywall may not be a wonderful success, but there's a chance there will be enough people out there with a need for information that they'll actually pay for it. They'll get tired of Mr. Wolff's thin gruel and cough up the cash it costs for better reporting.

    But who knows.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2010 @ 1:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    Your blind desperation is amusing.

     

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  22.  
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    aikiwolfie, Jul 18th, 2010 @ 11:14am

    OMG! It's like the people at "The Times" have been living in a bubble for the last two decades. This just could not get any more ironic.

    The problem The Times has is there are plenty of places to get new that don't have pay-walls. And the journalism is just as good and a good deal more neutral. And in the UK we've already paid for an on-line news site in the form of the BBC.

    Why would we pay for more?

     

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  23.  
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    Michael Lockyear (profile), Jul 18th, 2010 @ 12:26pm

    Re:

    >>>>OMG! It's like the people at "The Times" have been living in a bubble ...

    ...a pay-bubble!

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 5:58am

    Is it just me, or does the first minute of the video seem like it would be more appropriate for ... say 1998.

    They are talking about things on the internet like they were invented yesterday. All the talk about how you can write something ... AND PEOPLE CAN SEE IT RIGHT AWAY, as though that hasn't been the case for over a decade.

     

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  25.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 6:28am

    Re: Re: I guess I am going to have to pay the bets soon ...

    to funny ... true, but funny

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 11:30am

    Re:

    I was kind of thinking the same thing. It was more of a promo for a website than a paywall advantage. "Look, we have videos, and we can use twitter to tell you about new stories we've posted!"

    Very strange.

     

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  27.  
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    mikey, Jul 21st, 2010 @ 11:18pm

    Times Paywall Fiasco

    I used to read the London Times online from Australia.

    What I could not understand was the claim that there was no revenue for Rupert Murdoch with "free" online access but local Australian adverts appeared whenever I connected online.

    I therefore assumed that Rupert would get some revenue from advertisers outsdie of the UK based on sensing your IP address and switching to country based advertising.

    Now he is getting almost no revenue. Interesting commercial model.

     

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  28.  
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    shayne, Jul 22nd, 2010 @ 5:55pm

    Yep

    Nothing here is unexpected.

    As someone whos worked in web design for close to a decade, its absolutely axiomatic that website monetization schemes live and die by traffic statistics. No ifs, no buts.

    Removing themselves from google was an act of pure commercial suicide, because it has no effect other than antimarketing, that is to say, making themselves *disapear* to customers. For those outside the know, the newspaper might as well have gone out of business.

    On the other hand , murdoch papers are poorly written biased shite, so good riddance.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 23rd, 2010 @ 10:52am

    Did you notice that all the people speaking in that promo video are just freaking ANCIENT?

     

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  30.  
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    Evan Rudowski, Sep 7th, 2010 @ 2:37pm

    Re: Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    Mike,

    I enjoy your insights but I agree with Frankie on this one.

    I worked at Newsday (many years ago now) and helped launch some of their first online efforts. I still know people there. I grew up in that market and know it well.

    This constant refrain of "only 35 subscribers" by you and others is either misinformed or disingenuous. It's not merely (as Frankie points out) that it costs less to subscribe to the newspaper. It's also that all Cablevision subscribers (Cablevision owns Newsday) also get free access to Newsday's web site.

    Seventy-five percent of the 2.87 million Long Islanders already subscribe to either Newsday or Cablevision, or both. They get free access already. So it's not such a big deal nor particularly surprising that only 35 out of the remainder have paid separately for a subscription to the website alone.

    It's kind of like saying I can get a Happy Meal at McDonald's for £1.99 (here in the UK) or I can buy the toy alone for £2.99. Who would?

    For a much more thoughtful analysis of Newsday's approach see this good post by Mark Potts: http://recoveringjournalist.typepad.com/recovering_journalist/2010/01/newsdays-unconventional-subscr iption-model.html

    I happen to agree with you that Murdoch's approach for The Times is a bad idea, but I don't think the Newsday example has any value in illustrating the point.

    I think so highly of your work, Mike, that I really wish you would avoid dredging up Newsday as an example as I think it only serves to undermine your credibility on this issue. If it's not disingenuous (and I don't think you would be), then at best it's intellectual laziness.

    Best wishes,
    Evan

     

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  31.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 7th, 2010 @ 3:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    Hi Evan,

    I've been quite upfront about how Newsday is using this as a churn reducer:

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100126/1515217905.shtml
    http://www.techdirt.com/arti cles/20091022/1353536642.shtml

    So, not sure what your complaint is?

     

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  32.  
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    Evan Rudowski, Sep 7th, 2010 @ 4:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Michael Wolff is a competitor to Murdoch

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the reply. The main issue is that references to Newsday's 35 subscribers are often included alongside references to the Times or elsewhere. It seems to be a convenient headline people use to shore up their arguments against paywalls. But it's a poor illustration of the point.

    You have done deeper analysis which is to your credit, but it's easy to insert the headline shorn of context, even if linked. You're not the only one who does it. It's a tactic that, to me, weakens rather than strengthens what can otherwise be a sound argument.

    Consider it a minor criticism! For what it's worth, I think you maintain a pretty high standard in your overall body of work and I always enjoy reading your take on things.

    Kind regards,
    Evan

     

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