by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
paywalls, rupert murdoch, the times

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.

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  1. icon
    vivaelamor (profile), 16 Jul 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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