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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 8, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

    What will Rupert do?

    Hugh Linehan


    Michael Wolff’s article in this month’s Vanity Fair will be read with interest by those trying to figure out Rupert Murdoch’s real intentions. Will Murdoch really start charging for all his online content within the year? And if so, will it work? Wolff, whose book about the Dirty Digger is worth a read, seems extremely sceptical. The plan to hive off the Sunday Times from timesonline and charge for its content is, he implies, more a strategy to protect the paper than to develop the website. If, as the article suggests, 25 per cent of timesonline’s traffic is generated by Jeremy Clarkson (which is a pretty remarkable statistic), and if Murdoch therefore reckons he can leverage those fans into subscriptions to the ST, then one imagines Clarkson’s agent might feel his client is due a new deal, or should even strike out on his own.

    Whichever way, there’s no doubt Murdoch’s competitors (i.e. pretty much every media organisation in the English-speaking world) are watching with nervous fascination and eagerness. Don’t knock it till he’s tried it, seems to be the general consensus, as newspapers ravaged by the recession, declining circulation and loss of readers to online cast about desperately for an answer to their woes. Meanwhile, New Media types pour scorn on the plans: the old geezer just doesn’t get it, they say. He’s clinging to a broken model that ain’t coming back.

    We shall see. This week’s launch of the paid-for Times+ gives some idea of the way Murdoch is thinking – tailored services rather than old-style paywalls (like the one we had around these parts until last year). Will it work? Well, it’ll be a very interesting experiment. I just don’t believe him when he says “we’re going to have no paper, no printing plants, no unions. It’s going to be great.”

    • dealga says:

      In my humble opinion the only way it can work is to charge for the stuff unique to that paper, i.e. the op-ed stuff, commentary and features. There’s no point in charging for anything you can conceivably source elsewhere for free. I always thought an iTunes model where you would effectively buy articles that interested you by single click for a few cent was the way to go, rather than subscription charges for access you might only want to dip into

    • Fiona says:

      “No unions! It’s going to be great!” One man’s utopia, I guess . . . The problem remains that there is little of the Times content of late that’s actually worth forking out for. It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes down: theoretically at least, with the glut of conent and news sources online now, readers will eventually come round to the idea of paying for trusted information, and quality content. It’s just that we’re all getting so used to the free stuff, is all. Oh, and welcome to the blogopolis or whatever it’s called these days.

    • Mark says:

      I wonder what the timeframe is for having “no paper, no printing plants, no unions”.

      I also wonder how many people would pay to read either Terry Prone or Brenda Power when there are various bloggers out there writing – and debating – the topics they cover week-in week-out in their Sunday Times (Irish edition) columns.

      With those two names in mind I’d ask Deagla if his version of an iTunes model would work? You’re only as good as your columns under that scheme.

      Really, the iTunes idea should be based on a you’re-only-as-good-as-your-journalists mindset. In that instance “stuff unique to that paper” should be hard-news reporting with trusted analysis (not comment) and the avoidance of a slew of the he-said she-said stuff that makes most newspapers clones of one another…

    • dealga says:

      Mark, I would suggest that if a newspaper considering charging by the article rather than charging a subscription has to ask itself ‘are our columnists good enough to warrant charging people a few cents to read their work’ then they already have a more serious issue to resolve.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      @dealga – interesting to see the difference of opinion between yourself and Mark about what sort of content actually has potential monetary value. The same debate keeps rumbling on elsewhere. As you say, the received wisdom is that no one will pay for straightforward news stories – but received wisdoms change every month as far as I can see. And the New York Times is always cited as the example of how putting op-ed behind a paywall doesn’t work. If anyone knew the answer to this, they’d have done it by now.

      @Mark – I think the point about Murdoch’s proposed move is not about whether the quality of individual columnists is enough to persuade people to part with a few cent – it’s whether he’s such a big beast in the jungle that he will cause a game-changing moment. But really there are few media products less suitable for a charging model than a newspaper which publishes once a week, regardless of its content.

    • JP says:

      I can’t speak about ST, but when the Irish Times started charging for content a few years ago I just stopped reading it even though I can not buy the paper where I live. I must admit it was disappointing because it was one the few links I had to current affaires back in Ireland. As for the paperless future for the ST, I am not so sure. I remember people talking about office automation and the paperless office back in the early eighties.

      Whether its a “tailored services or old-style paywalls” it is pretty must the same to the customer. You have to ask a question will every current hardcopy customer switch to web based pc, pda, mobile device and pay for the service. I personally would not be bothered. But maybe the market is evolving and by migrating the product to the web might generate a new type of customer, but again not so sure that the internet is paved with gold.

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