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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 26, 2010 @ 10:38 pm

    News from Denmark, down with paywalls and in Steve we trust…

    Hugh Linehan

    Just back from f-f-freezing Copenhagen, where I had a very interesting few hours in the offices of Politiken, Denmark’s Guardian-ish left of centre daily. These (very nice) people seem happy with the results of their strategy, in place since 2006, of developing their newspaper and website in parallel but separate ways. So if you go to politiken.dk (don’t be scared off by the in your face design – that’s the way they like it in the Nordic countries), you’ll find different content, arranged differently from the newspaper.

    If you want an exact replica of their paper, you’ll have to buy their e-reader version. The site cherrypicks the bits from the paper it thinks most suitable for online, but may decide not to publish them for a day or so – whatever’s best for the web. Plus there’s lots of unique, online-only content, including plenty of TV. Would it work here? Hard to know exactly, but it seems more interesting to me than the rather sterile paywall vs free debate ongoing in the English=speaking world. That debate has been given some impetus by the New York Times’s announcement last week of its plans to charge users from next year on a (horrible word) ‘freemium’ basis, where you get to see a few articles for nothing over the course of a month, but if you exceed your limit then you have to pay.

    Yesterday’s counterblast by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger against the mooted move to charging is the first detailed rebuttal by the editor of a major newspaper against paywalls. Rusbridger is an eloquent advocate of the position that traditional media should embrace the internet in all its glorious, disruptive, data-rich anarchy, rather than entombing itself behind walls. But, as plenty of critics have already pointed out, Guardian Media Group is currently losing £100,000 a day, which isn’t a great advertisement for the Brave New World.

    Meanwhile, at times like these, there’s always a demand for a Messiah, and who better than Mr Steve Jobs. The New York Times (yes, them again) reports newspapers are hoping Apple’s new iThingummy, due for launch at 6pm tomorrow Irish time,, will save us all: 

    ‘People who have seen the tablet say Apple will market it not just as a way to read news, books and other material, but also a way for companies to charge for all that content.’

    After all, he saved the music industry, didn’t he? Oh, right…

    • Mike McHugh says:

      On a related note, would 35 people be enough justification for a paywall?

      http://www.observer.com/2010/media/after-three-months-only-35-subscriptions-newsdays-web-site

    • Hi Hugh,

      politiken.dk – that’s one hell of a homepage (and it scrolls on down forever). I like the bold approach. It certainly catches the eye. Interesting to note the amount of video on offer too.

      One thing that always puzzled me about the Observer’s (shortly to be redundant) monthly magazines was why they were online at all. They were such a quality product physically, surely they should have been made available with the paper only (adding extra value to the purchase)

    • robespierre says:

      If you want to see something really radical Hugh have a look at Pranav Mistry on ted.com

    • Aengus says:

      Hello? Does nobody at the Irish Times remember that, until very recently, the Irish Times itself was behind a “paywall”? How did that work out for you? Why so coy about referring to that experience when discussing the topic of mainstream news media and their online presence?

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Aengus@4 Hello yourself. Who’s being coy? Yes, we dropped our paywall a year and a half ago, and clearly stated our reasons for doing so. And yes, our relatively recent experience of charging for content will inform any moves we make in the future.

    • Aengus says:

      If your experience is going to inform your future moves, why doesn’t this experience form any part of the _public_ discussion now? We see references to Murdochs mutterings other elements of the UK media, and references to the WSJ and the NYT and what they might do, but no useful insight from a publication that has some recent experience on the matter.

      A lot has changed in 18 months. Some of your current readers (most of who probably weren’t subscribers 18 months ago), would probably like some insight into how the Irish Times position has evolved in that time. The persistent avoidance of that aspect of an ongoing theme certainly strikes me as coy – it’s hardly likely that you don’t have an opinion.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Aengus – actually my own personal opinion (which shouldn’t be confused with the ‘IrishTimes position’) is that we will see a lot of changes over the next 18 months, and that it would be foolish at this point to commit to any single concrete strategy. There is ample opportunity to do stupid things at the moment in terms of trying to extract money from users. Most will fall flat, but they’ll be very educational for the rest of us.

      However, there’s no doubt the pressure is on within ALL media organisations to find ways of generating online revenues, given the failure of display advertising to bridge the gap. The fact our paywall was lifted so recently means we have a pretty good idea of conversion rates from free usage to subscription – and they aren’t particularly pretty.

      The original post pointed to the way in which Politiken doesn’t provide a free replica of the newspaper online. It’s fair to say that’s an idea which fits with some of our thinking about how to develop in 2010. Hope that’s not too coy.


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