The clock is ticking – in less than a month, we won’t be able to read articles published in The Times newspaper for free online.
Owner Rupert Murdoch has decided that his network of news websites will start charging subscriptions for content. Non-paying visitors will simply get a login screen.
Furthermore, articles will not appear in Google. Assistant Editor of The Times, Tom Whitwell, says this is to ensure people pay: “The clarity is something that was very important. If you’re asking someone to pay for something, it has to be very clear what they’re paying for.”
The trouble is that since the late 1990s, when newspaper content started appearing en masse online, we’ve become used to being able to access it for free. To be charged now will come as quite a shock. And of course the issue with not allowing Google to index news articles is that they won’t be found in the first place. Murdoch must be assuming that we will be interested in the content because we like the quality, editorial style and/or ethos of the Times.
A very arrogant assumption indeed and an incorrect one. People find Times articles because they’re searching for a specific topic. The destination is less important than the search. We’ll end up with the Telegraph, Mail or BBC instead.
Murdoch believes that ‘less is more’ – he’d rather fewer people visited, but they all paid. But previous examples of paywalls have failed (US daily Newsday attracted just 35 paying subscribers in the first quarter) and other media companies are rolling out less drastic measures (The NY Times is considering a pay-as-you-go limited subscription for 2011).
Eliminating web visibility also makes it much less likely that Times articles will be shared in the social web because users will be concerned that their peers won’t be able to open links, reducing emotional engagement and reach.
Like many people, I absorb daily news online, but still purchase a Sunday paper (the Sunday Times in fact). I probably won’t buy a subscription to the Times. If I’m going to do that I’d rather have the paper itself delivered to my door.
Murdoch’s acquisition and advertising strategy weakened MySpace. It was a monumental disaster that led to the founders falling out and the website falling by the wayside, much to the delight of Facebook.
We suspect the same will happen with Times Online.