With less than 24 hours to go before TheMediaBriefingÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s inaugural conference Paywall Strategies 2011, site editor and panelist Patrick Smith gives his take on the state of playÇ½ƒ_ª¶Ý
Q. When is a paywall not a paywall?
A. When itÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s business strategy involving some elements of user payments, as implemented by a sensible, modern media group.
ThatÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s how I read the latest revelations, if thatÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s the word, that Telegraph Media Group is thinking about introducing a metered, paid-for website in the Spring Ç½ƒ_ªƒ__ assumedly similar to FT.com and the model the New Yorks Times is about to launch (from Marketing/Brand Republic).
To MarketingÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s reportersÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½ credit, the article doesnÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½t use the word Ç½ƒ_ª_paywallÇ½ƒ_ª¶ once Ç½ƒ_ªƒ__ which shows a mature understanding that increasingly, there is nothing unusual nor remarkable about news organisations selling things. (TMG says that Ç½ƒ_ª_absolutelyÇ½ƒ_ª¶ no final decision has been made).
Marketing also reported last year that Trinity Mirror would introduce some form of charge Ç½ƒ_ªƒ__ which, again, most likely isnÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½t a plan to build a wall but to monetise archives, niche products and Mirror.co.ukÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s most engaged users.
The TelegraphÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s subs plan has been coming for a while. Another of those handy Ç½ƒ_ª_insidersÇ½ƒ_ª¶ told the FT last year:
Ç½ƒ_ª_The final decision has not been made, but it will not be an impregnable paywall like the Times. It will be a metered system or, less likely, micropayments.Ç½ƒ_ª_
But how would a metered system work with TelegraphÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s (currently free and ad-supported) mobile products? Will TMG find its hands tied by AppleÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s new inflexible subscription rules, which ban publishers from plugging cheaper offers available on its own site? Will subscribers complain, as TheTimes.co.uk customers have, that they donÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½t want to pay for an iPad app sub and a desktop web sub?
The FT and Economist have shown how popular, usable and marketable a single sign-on across platforms can be. But! As my former colleague Robert Andrews points out, more than 8,500 of the FTÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s subscribers signed up through iPad and did so via FTÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s own in-app system Ç½ƒ_ªƒ_ so if the new Apple rules were in place, the FT would have lost out on close to $1 million.
Strength in numbers
And hereÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s another thought: Telegraph.co.uk is the UKÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s third most-visited news site with 31 million unique visitors in December (so says ABCe). If Telegraph does join FT.com, TheTimes.co.uk, TheSundayTimes.co.uk, NewsoftheWorld.co.uk, TheSun.co.uk, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and countless B2B titles in taking its content away from the free news economy Ç½ƒ_ªƒ__ thatÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s a lot of journalism only available to paying readers.
The hope for paid content enthusiasts is that paying for news (and media Ç½ƒ_ª_stuffÇ½ƒ_ª¶ generally) becomes normalised Ç½ƒ_ªƒ__ a cultural acceptance across age groups. Rupert Murdoch wants this more than anything, hence his challenge to other media owners to follow him in setting the price of media without interference from a fickle, scarce-value digital ad market.
Of course, it seems the Telegraph isnÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½t signing up to old RupeÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s grand plan: it doesnÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½t want a Ç½ƒ_ª_paywallÇ½ƒ_ª¶ to lock out non-subscribers and ditch the global audience itÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s invested so much in building Ç½ƒ_ªƒ__ it just wants to monetise the most engaged users and (I suspect) to entice niche subscriptions to specific content vertical and services (sport, fashion, crosswords, fantasy football etc).
The problem with ads
Peter Kirwan is very good on this in our research report on paywalls, and quotes New York TimesÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½ David Carr:
Ç½ƒ_ª_For a long time, newspapers assumed that as their print advertising declined, it would be intersected by a surging line of online advertising revenue. But that revenue is no longer growing at many newspaper sites, so if the lines cross, it will be because the print revenue is saying hello on its way to the basement.Ç½ƒ_ª¶
Sure, you can be clever with targeting, profiling and getting to know your readers, to give advertisers more data about your audience Ç½ƒ_ªƒ__ Paul Hood is doing this at Trinity Mirror.
Yet one thing is clear to me: No media group can afford not to sell at least something digitally. Whether itÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s apps, digital subscriptions, reports, clubs, games, individual stories, services, personalised news feedsÇ½ƒ_ª¶Ý These are all part of the new publishing economy.
And itÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½s also worth remembering: no one has ruled anything out.
Tomorrow at Paywall Strategies 2011, weÇ½ƒ_ªƒ_½ll be debating these issues and more: follow our coverage throughout the day on TheMediaBriefing.com and @MediaBrief Ç½ƒ_ªƒ__ and if you want to join the conversation online, follow the #paywalls11 hashtag.