Simon who likes to tumbl
FT vs Guardian: The Ongoing Paywall Debate

The Financial Times has been held up as something of a pioneering newspaper, but its latest digital expansion comes at cost to the print.

The paper has done a good job of adapting to the digital world, attracting large numbers of paying subscribers to both print and online. It’s usually the default pro-paywall example; although with the note its content has the advantage of being unique enough to attract paying readers.

Long standing editor Lionel Barber announced on Monday a renewed focus on digital, and is hiring 10 new employees specifically under a digital remit. The knock-on effect is 35 current FT staffers face the chop – or more accurately being offered a ‘buyout’ according to Paid Content. 35 of these buyouts will save the paper £1.6m this year, according to an internal email sent yesterday.

Barber says “The intention is to reduce the cost of producing the newspaper and give us the flexibility to invest more online”. There’s also a mandate to focus more on “priority stories”, an streamlined international presence and new products in the coming year.

Interestingly, Barber sees less competition with rival papers and more with social media channels, “Our common cause is to secure the FT’s future in an increasingly competitive market, where old titles are being routinely disrupted by new entrants such as Google and LinkedIn and Twitter.” 

On the surface it may look like hard number crunching (+10 -35 isn’t tough maths), but these are the hard calls publishers and editors are being forced to make in the digital world. Ultimately is does mean we’re looking at smaller editorial teams, but it also means more focused teams delivering the content readers want to consume and pay for. What Mr Spock might have called ‘the needs of the many’. Although there’s no way around the fact it’s tough times for the 35 potential buyouters. 

At the sometime Barber was tapping out his email, Andrew Miller, CEO of Guardian Media, has reaffirmed the group’s commitment to “open journalism” and shunning of the paywall model. Miller is one who has argued the FT’s paywall works because subscribers were always willing to pay for the premium business and financial content - something his paper can’t match. In an article with The Economist last week, he wrote:    

 “The overriding business task is to monetize the online audience…when we talk of ‘audience’ we still mean our readers…newspapers have always used a blend of different funding mechanisms to extract revenues for their ‘product’. That’s why I am unconvinced by those who say that the only model that works is to build paywalls. This is not an area where one size fits all.

“In some news organisations where growth in readership may not be so important and in particular where there is a strong existing print subscriber base to build on, a pure paywall may make excellent business sense. The Economist and perhaps the Times spring to mind here. It also makes sense in other publications which feature business-critical information – for example, the Financial Times and, in the Australian context, the AFR.”  

In short, the FT et al can afford to monetise content and focus on digital because they don’t have to worry about growing their readership – but The Guardian does.

So where The Guardian is competing with paid-for titles and grabbing readers wherever it can, even in Australia now, the FT is more concerned about monitising content and developing a profitable digital business. The idea of “open journalism” is a noble one, and one I hope works out in the long term. But for now, it seems making the tough calls is the better option for newspapers looking for a firm foothold in digital.

Is this freemium, or just for speed? - The Times gets on Tumblr

There’s a brand new Tumblr page kicking about the web this week, and it is a little different to school days nostalgia, inappropriately placed QR codes or a love of charts and Venn diagrams.

A select few of the The Times newspaper’s editorial team have taken to Tumblr and are publishing blog posts, opinion pieces and picture stories. Since coming online yesterday posts have covered a range of topics including gay marriage, protests against Russian President Putin and a gloomy insight into the state of the British summer.    

But you may be thinking ‘hang on a minute, what about The Times’ paywall? Isn’t giving away content from some of their top writers flying in the face of the paid content model?’. And you wouldn’t be alone in these thoughts.

Hugo Rifkind seems to be answering similar questions on Twitter. Firstly, lets clarify this is not The Times attempting a freemium model, it’s ‘different’:

The driving force behind it seems to be allowing Times reports to provide content and opinion to readers at increased speed to the print and online site, cutting it from a day to “about 5 mins”:

Or, if you prefer, think of it as Twitter+

In fact, that seems like the best way to sum it up. The Times has a less straightforward social media play to non-paywall papers and online news sources – being behind a paywall means sharing content and engaging with readers has to be re-thought.

Direct engagement with content and Times reporters is limited to subscribers and buyers only, so posting on Tumblr is potentially a good way to give some insight into editorial coverage and tempt new readers within the Times’ paywall. It’s not the only paper experimenting with Tumblr, check out the Guardian’s Untangling the Web for another, but it does show The Times isn’t 100% closed to the idea of free content online.


Thanks for the tip @kchadda

Times uses Olympics to boost paywall subscribers…by removing the paywall

The Times’ paywall was the first to go up on a UK paper, and since being in place has fallen over on the odd occasions – seemingly by mistake. That was until the Queen had been on the throne for 60 years.

During the Jubilee weekend, a time when the majority of the British public chose to watch the Diamond Jubilee celebrations from the comfort and warmth of their own homes, someone at The Times though it was a good time to drop the paywall. This was an effort to attract un-paying eyeballs and, hopefully, generate a few more paying subscribers.

And it sort of worked. Some 6,000 people registered for The Times or Sunday Times sites over thw weekend according to Media Week. These 6,000 will now be hit up by marketing in an effort to boost subscription numbers. 

Bosses at The Times must have been pleased with this number, as the paper is now planning to drop the paywall again during the London 2012 Olympics – presumably thinking the same target audience that was glued to their TV will be stuck in offices during the games and sneaking a look online whenever they can.  However, the paywall will only be down for two or three days during the games, likely around the more prominent events.

Does this mean the paywall model will change following the Olympics, as some suggest? Probably not. As an early foray into the world of paid content it seems to have gone okay. Using increased interest in mass appeal events is more of a marketing evolution than it is a revolution in business model. It’s more likely we’ll see the paywall drop temporally in future around similar scale events – provided there is a consistent small boost in subscriber numbers when it does.

It’s not bad timing by the paper for another reason. A number of London tube stations are being fitted with Wifi in advance of the games, which will be free initially. The first stations are already online at King’s Cross and Warren Street. So those heading to the games, as well as London commuters, may stumble through the paywall in their pre-event browsing.


Is the Telegraph one step closer to a paywall, or kicking off a paid content ‘ladder strategy’?

The Daily Telegraph is about to start charging for its editorial mobile apps, which until now have been free for anyone wanting to read the paper on the go.

In “the coming weeks”, iPhone and Android smartphone uses will have to start forking out £7 a week for the editorial apps as they are bundled into the paper subscription. Only those who already subscribe to the Telegraph print or the £9.99 a month iPad edition will continue to get the apps for free.   

Does this mean the paper is one step closer to erecting a paywall around its website content? There has been discussion of such an endeavour last year, following in the national paywall trend of the FT and The Times.

It’s also possible this is the beginning of a ‘ladder strategy’ for the paper, where web content is offered as the free lure followed up an up sell of the physical print paper and convenience of the mobile apps. That would make yet another variation of the national paywall model, coming in underneath the FT’s ‘you get a few articles a month for free, then pay’ and way below The Times’ ‘all or nothing’ payment approach.

Offering short form content that appeals to the mobile user, such as ESPN Premier League video highlights, suggests the Telegraph sees more of a market for this content amongst mobile device users – perhaps thinking they’re more likely to consume video on a commute or double screening at home. The slight drawback is relying on seasonal sports content puts you in danger of losing regular weekly subs during the off season period. 

Has the Telegraph found the paid content’s paywall sweet spot? It’s a big ask, but we might find out in ‘the coming weeks’.


The Times shifts a social media brick

The Times and Sunday Times, the papers that led the pro-paywall charge in the UK, are about to lift a few of their upper most bricks and let social media peak through their virtual partitions.

Speaking at the Digital Content Monetisation Europe conference this week Nick Bell, News International digital product director, told Paid Content:

“Sharing, within the Wapping headquarters, has been a hotly-debated topic…Over the next six months, you will see us rewarding our paying subscribers with the ability to share amongst their network. That’s going to be an interesting piece for us. If they want to share content with their direct friends, then we’re going to enable that.”

Interesting is a darn good word for it. Back when the paywall first went up, I had a few thoughts on the future value of The Times for PRs. Most significantly, was there still value in running an exclusive with The Times compared with say The Telegraph or even the slightly-less-restricted FT. The erection of a paywall locks an exclusive story behind The Times’ wall and seriously limits potential online spread. 

The idea of sharing articles on social media changes that. In fact, there’s an argument it increases the value of an exclusive, as the supposedly more engaged paying readership are more likely to read and share an article.

That value does, to a degree, rely on sharing options being free – which is not a forgone conclusion as yet. Bell also told the conference:   

“They [readers] want to have a level playing field - if they are paying for content, then other people are also paying for content…Where we do want to add value and we see an opportunity is allowing people to share content with their friends. How we do that is yet to be finalised, but we do think there is value if they can share content with their friends and family.”

So there’s definitely value in it, which means there could be value for PRs. Once they sort out the CPT (cost per Tweet). 

The Times launches new iPhone app

Paywalled to the eyeballs national newspaper, The Times, has released an all new iPhone app this week. It’s available in the iTunes store, right now!

The screen shot says the app is free, and of course this is technically true. But being behind a paywall, the content is only available to subscribers of The Times and The Sunday Times who fork out £2 a week for a digital sub.

However, this app is a little different as there is a limited free trial period for new users – so you can grab all of Team Murdoch’s thoughts on the day’s events for nought.

For The Times, a better approach to suck in readers would have been to offer a trial on the use-based model, rather than a time limited one. Granted this is more popular with World of Warcraft types right now, but there is a potential application in the digital publishing realm.

Using this model, readers can only access so many articles before they’re forced to pay up. And if they really want to continue reading they will sure as sugar pay up. But with the time limited model, if you download the app and then forget about it for a few days – that’s your lot son. Perhaps the The Times missed a little trick with this release.

For US readers, you can grab is from iTunes US too - under the very British name of The Times of London. What what. Enjoy!

Regional Paywalls - Boosting Print Circulation

Ah regional newspapers. Once the power-houses of local news across the UK, the many expresses, echos, stars, mails and gazettes have, like so many others, suffered ever lower circulation figures as readers increasingly turn to the world wide web for their fix on local news.

You’d think in the world of ‘free media’ readers would be reluctant to handover cash to access a local paper’s website - say from behind a paywall. So it was a little surprising to see the UK’s largest circulation regional, the Express & Star, erecting a paywall following a preview last month.

The Express & Star 24 site costs £2.81 for web and mobile access, and offers a range of local news, weather, traffic, football analysis and a digital version of the offline paper - pretty much all you’d expect from a local paper.

However, the price is a bit of a sneaky point. As Paid Content points out, as VAT is not added to print paper costs, the cost of a digital and print bundle is actually cheaper (£2.34 per week). This basically means the digital bundle comes in at the same price as the Monday-Saturday print edition.

This ensures the paper can use its digital presence to keep print readers up, keeping the audience loyal and steadying the subscription revenue stream. Quite a shrewd move.

The Times they are still a chargin’, but the numbers are changing

A second round of digital subscriber figures from The Times, and what it means for public relations practitioners  
Murdoch’s band of digital revenue folks have released a second set of subscriber figures, eight months after The Times paywall went up. In short, all the line graphs in Murdoch’s boardrooms must be pointing skywards.

Digital only monthly subscriptions rose to 79,000, up 60% on the figures revealed four months ago.  

The flip side of this success is the growth of digital subscriptions is slowing, from 50,000 new subs in the first four months of the paywall to 29,000 subs in the second. The Sunday Times iPad launched during the second phrase, and PaidContent points out this should have driven an increase in subscriber numbers. But consider reading habits - I’d suspect even a hard core digital reader might want to relax with a good ol’ fashioned print paper, supplements ‘n’ all, on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I know I would. Like Bruce Willis, some habits do die hard. Regardless, the fact subscriptions are increasing in an age when few people will fork over pennies for paid content or any news online sounds like a plus.

The value of a national paper paywalled up to the eyeballs for PRs is still a sticky point. As I’ve noted before, questions remain over the dedication of subscription readers vs the volume of casual, the value of running an exclusive in a paywalled environment and, from the tech PR perspective, grabbing the attention of readers using iPads, tablets and the like.

News Corp tries to answer this question, albeit from an advertiser’s perspective, stating “Both brand and message recall are higher within a paid-for environment – by 21 per cent and 18 per cent respectively”. This comment does smack of ‘well you would say that’, or as Paid Content puts it “News International is trying hard to convince advertisers they won’t lose out by reaching fewer eyeballs”. You can more or less say the same for PR and value add for clients.

It’s still early to make a concrete call on the value of a paywalled national for PRs. The Times subscription numbers may reach a tipping point where the walled garden effect is outweighed by sheer volume. But with 79,000, it isn’t there yet.

Sunday Times iPad Edition: Email Clarkson with your grips

A video popped up on Paid Content this week, a slick demo of the Sunday Times iPad Edition.

From the video, which is designed to make it look good, it looks…well, good. The paper’s content is coupled with new interactive features, which include:

  • All 12 supplements of the Sunday paper, accessible via a scrolling carousel
  • Video content, linked from the ‘front page’
  • An interactive TV guide
  • A map of the globe, allowing users to browse stories by region / location
  • Links to purchase reviewed books online

Best of all, when the narrator references the ability to email a writer or columnist “whether you agree with them or not”, the screen displays an image of an article by Jeremy Clarkson. Not that he garners a lot of controversial reader complaints, I’m sure.

The app makes its debut this Sunday, £1.79 or free to anyone who’s taken up residence behind Murdoch’s paywall.