Charging for regional papers’ websites -desperate move?

In the latest effort to try to monetise internet versions of the press, Johnson Press, owners of 300 regional papers including the Newsletter, have launched an experiment to charge for the content of 6 papers (but not the former old lady of Lower Donegall St). Ex- Scotsman editor Tim Luckhurst backs the move on rational grounds but doesn’t discuss other models. The Times report quotes Media Guardian’s Emily Bell’s telling point: “If you have content which broadly can be found somewhere else you’re going to really restrict people coming to your website.” The alternative, forcing the big gatekeeping search engines like Google to pay, may be behind the Murdoch moves to start charging – if it actually happens. Can marketing come up with paywalls that don’t drive subscribers mad? Direct charging either by a flat rate or per item for non-specialist news seem non-starters. But with most of the press in financial crisis, desperate measures may be necessary. Adds I see that the Irish News have started a new subscription drive that means you can’t get in to see the headlines and intros. Newshound’s John Fay is similarly frustrated. Let’s hope it’s a temporary blip. The move illustrates the dilemma perfectly.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m going to blog on this at length later, but I can perfectly see why The IN has put the pay walls back up. Personally, I tended not to blog their stuff when it was free because it was always hitting online a day late. It’s a shame because they have a one of the best team of specialists in NI…

    Now it’s locked I will probably take a deep breath and fork out the £150 pa, if I can get sight of their content when I get to see that of the DT, the IT, the Guardian and the FT – ie between 11 and 12.30 the night before. That’s potentially valuable to me, 9.30am (three plus hours after it hits the shops) is not.

    Most people won’t. But talking to Mairtin last week, he says the ATN has put on an extra 1k of print sales since they took their stuff back offline… That’s a lot of money in these hard times.

    The problem is a strategic one. If there is nothing online but a brickwall, then you will quickly run into the problem of having no readers online. The Spectator solved that one by building up their Coffee House presence and then eventually taking the Magazine back under subscription so that one is effectively a marketing operation for the other.

  • The Irish News pay wall is up. This closes down a portal for nationalist perspective on the news. The Irish News probably doesn’t see itself as fulfilling that role.

    Don’t buy any paper regularly, and the Irish News wouldn’t be first lifted. The real question for print content producers is whether, really, the people who read on line are people who would ever buy the paper. Suspect for the most part they are not.

  • Only Asking.

    A fiver for three months I would consider but £150, no way.

  • Spectator seems to have asked the right question: How can the internet be used beneficially, create presence, reinforce brand, strengthen potential for off-shelf/subscription service. The Economist is has put up a three month stagger to info coming online and that seems right – what is the point of paper if something bought is immediately online. A paper copy still comes through the post and, even though RSS is on the Mac and online access is available, sitting down and perusing the mag is still a weekly pleasure. But the wider debates and video content on the economist certainly enhances the reader experience. Too many ‘content’ producers regard the web as a portal rather than as a tool – that they haven’t worked out how to use that tool is why the debate rages and approaches are so varied.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    The Irish News online sub does seem steep, unless they find a way of adding value (like Mick’s early online publication suggestion).

    The flipping newspaper graphic on the front page might scare some people, but I guess the video will help, once it actually plays through without stopping every second.

    I hope the subscribers get access to the archive and a decent search engine. The search facility on the last IN site was terrible, though they aren’t alone.

    I would like a free trial to see what the site offers behind the wall. If it is, as the editor suggests in the video, just an online version of the paper, I’ll be happy enough with the paper.

  • News reader

    Are the content of the page-turner papers searchable, indexable by search engines? If not (which I suspect they aren’t), then the papers that use them have rendered themselves useless for research, which for something like the Irish News should be considering as an integral part to their online presence. A combination of text based material + page turners is the ideal, with the page turner and full text/archive access sub only and a limited number of text/content preview for free. I would hope the Irish News as it is today is not the final version of their paid-for self, as it leaves a lot to be desired (and I will pay for the subscription).

  • Peter Preston, former editor of The Guardian and a columnist for The Observer, was addressing journalism students (inc me) at Sheffield University today and touched on the issue of paywalls etc.

    He said he had recently silenced a meeting when he suggested a licence fee-esque broadband fee, which would in effect place a paywall around broadband generally in the UK. This would mean a continued user-friendly experience, browsing news site after news site and not have to login here there and everywhere…Although he didn’t specify I presume he means that revenues from this fee would go towards maintaining local, regional and national news provision, particularly newspapers.

    The guy was fascinating to speak to, but I can’t see a gov’t of any colour making a go of his idea. The licence fee only works, barely, because the revenues go to a much-loved and publicly-owned body, but would people happily pay a tax whose revenues would be distributed amongst private corporations such as News International?

    And what would the quid pro quo be? Taxpayers’ money to maintain news provision in exchange for greater scrutiny ie a step towards statutory regulation of the press?

  • RepublicanStones

    Quite obviously the smaller local periodicals cannot generate the revenue from advertising that the bigger national papers can. And this is all about keeping your head above the water. But is it true that there is more income to be generated from advertising on the online editions than on the print copies, what with flashboxes etc allowing several different advertisers to use the exact same space?
    By charging it decreases your catchment audience online, but would increase your hardcopy sales. Perhaps a necessity for the smaller firms, it’ll be interesting to watch the big boys response.

  • Vito

    Small dick micks.