Ironic that the Irish News have largely closed (breaking news and some of the top stories retain free access) their subscription wall against the hordes of freebie online readers just the day after this excellent piece in the Media Guardian by Richard Wray. He notes that Murdoch has rolled back on his decision to open up WSJ.com to all comers, and may be putting the lid back on some of the comment sites, whilst using the blogs to keep up its mass readership. Yet the subs blocked sites had “over a million subscribers and a global role as the voice of American capitalism, WSJ.com makes over $50m in revenues a year, far more than its rivals.”The subscriptions, it seems, is part of the key to generating much of the big revenues. But it’s not so rewarding for everyone. Wray also notes that “WSJ.com and the smaller FT.com, are the only subscription-based news sites among the top 70 visited by UK internet users.” He goes on to quote Alex Burmaster, European internet analyst at Nielsen Online.:
“The sheer variety of freely available content online and the power of search engines have always been mighty foes against the subscription model. Whilst charging subscriptions has remained viable for some providers of niche content, most publishers have been forced to move away from this model and look to maximising audiences as the major weapon in the battle for revenue.”
Wray notes that FT.com has seen a rocketing of its traffic since it put its news output in front of the subscription wall:
Bob Ivins, managing director of online metrics firm Comscore Europe, says the effect was to increase traffic by 30% to 40% over the next two months on FT.com. “It’s a ratchet effect, now they are on a higher plateau.” According to Comscore’s data, total unique UK visitors to the FT.com site have increased from 329,000 in September to 464,000 in December.
There are still higher value items that are kept behind the FT.com wall, not least because in capturing the detailed demographics of its readership, it can charge higher premiums for its online advertising. But, according to FT.com’s publisher and managing editor Ien Cheng, the FT wants to remove barriers. “In the past,” says Cheng, “we have taken ourselves out of the web conversation by having a hard subscription barrier.”
And that’s the key. I retain subscriptions to both the Irish News and the Irish Times, and will continue the stuff from both places that appears the following day courtesy of Newshound. But effectively it is taking some excellent journalism out of the loop for most people. Let’s hope they come back to re-consider this issue sooner rather than later.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty