What will Rupert do?
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.”