FT vs Guardian: The Ongoing Paywall Debate

The Financial Times has been held up as something of a pioneering newspaper, but its latest digital expansion comes at cost to the print.

The paper has done a good job of adapting to the digital world, attracting large numbers of paying subscribers to both print and online. It’s usually the default pro-paywall example; although with the note its content has the advantage of being unique enough to attract paying readers.

FT guardian paywall

Long standing editor Lionel Barber announced on Monday a renewed focus on digital, and is hiring 10 new employees specifically under a digital remit. The knock-on effect is 35 current FT staffers face the chop – or more accurately being offered a ‘buyout’ according to Paid Content. 35 of these buyouts will save the paper £1.6m this year, according to an internal email sent yesterday.

Barber says “The intention is to reduce the cost of producing the newspaper and give us the flexibility to invest more online”. There’s also a mandate to focus more on “priority stories”, an streamlined international presence and new products in the coming year.

Interestingly, Barber sees less competition with rival papers and more with social media channels, “Our common cause is to secure the FT’s future in an increasingly competitive market, where old titles are being routinely disrupted by new entrants such as Google and LinkedIn and Twitter.”

On the surface it may look like hard number crunching (+10 -35 isn’t tough maths), but these are the hard calls publishers and editors are being forced to make in the digital world. Ultimately is does mean we’re looking at smaller editorial teams, but it also means more focused teams delivering the content readers want to consume and pay for. What Mr Spock might have called ‘the needs of the many’. Although there’s no way around the fact it’s tough times for the 35 potential buyouters.

At the sometime Barber was tapping out his email, Andrew Miller, CEO of Guardian Media, has reaffirmed the group’s commitment to “open journalism” and shunning of the paywall model. Miller is one who has argued the FT’s paywall works because subscribers were always willing to pay for the premium business and financial content – something his paper can’t match. In an article with The Economist last week, he wrote:

“The overriding business task is to monetize the online audience…when we talk of ‘audience’ we still mean our readers…newspapers have always used a blend of different funding mechanisms to extract revenues for their ‘product’. That’s why I am unconvinced by those who say that the only model that works is to build paywalls. This is not an area where one size fits all.

“In some news organisations where growth in readership may not be so important and in particular where there is a strong existing print subscriber base to build on, a pure paywall may make excellent business sense. The Economist and perhaps the Times spring to mind here. It also makes sense in other publications which feature business-critical information – for example, the Financial Times and, in the Australian context, the AFR.”

In short, the FT et al can afford to monetise content and focus on digital because they don’t have to worry about growing their readership – but The Guardian does.

So where The Guardian is competing with paid-for titles and grabbing readers wherever it can, even in Australia now, the FT is more concerned about monitising content and developing a profitable digital business. The idea of “open journalism” is a noble one, and one I hope works out in the long term. But for now, it seems making the tough calls is the better option for newspapers looking for a firm foothold in digital.

What The Times’ new paywall update means for PRs

It’s emerged this week The Times newspaper is backtracking ever so slightly on its paywall policy. It really is ‘ever so slightly’, two sentences at a time.

the times paywall

When The Times’ paywall shot up in May 2010 it was unique. Unique because it completely closed off all access to the site’s editorial content for non-subscribers. This contrasted harshly with other paywalls that allowed readers to view a select number of articles or at least read the headline and first paragraph, notably the FT but other trade and specialist titles too.

Now the News Corp owned paper has backtracked. Google, Bing and any other search engine’s crawlers will be able to grab the first two sentences the paper’s editorial articles and index them alongside freely accessible sites. The update should happen next month, says The Telegraph.

Paid Content rightly suggests this is an effort to market the paper to new customers, having reached over 130,000 paying subscribers since the paywall went up. Ignoring the “drive by traffic” has been at the heart of The Times’ strategy, and it’s nice to know the paper’s digital team are willing to reassess their position a few years in.

But what does this mean for PRs?

When the paywall first went up I had a few questions over the value of the paper for PRs, effectively weighing the worth of reaching a fledgling but well targeted audience with a wider, more causal readership. There were also questions of exclusive stories with a site paywalled up to the eyeballs, and generally how monitoring would be tougher for PRs.

The latest update means it is work revisiting these topics:

  • Exclusives: well it seems you can have your cake and eat it too. Or other clichés. From a PR perspective, The Times is much more appealing for an exclusive story with a few bricks knocked out of the paywall. Your story will now get to the national broadsheet readers who are arguably far more engaged than the legions of causal readers hitting guardian.co.uk and telegraph.co.uk everyday. If you’re looking after a brand whose name won’t grab attention in headlines, this is even more appealing.
  • Monitoring: this will get a whole lot easier, especially for anyone scanning nationals for client and industry coverage to compile a morning news scan. If there’s a big story picked up by other nationals, I’ll bet my Gorkana log-in few PRs have included a Times article in news scans over the last two years. You’re just so much more likely to find it somewhere else first. Presumably the update means Times content will be included in Google Alerts too, but Paid Content confirmed monitoring services such as Meltwater are still off the cards. The downside is any client without a sub won’t be able to read the entire article in their scan, but at least The Times will be back on the radar. Which leads us to…
  • Influence vs exposure: this makes me wonder if Times writers have become less influential than their counterparts at other papers, whose stories are freely viewable by PRs, analysts, clients and…everyone. Does lack of exposure mean less influence? It’s not impossible, but if it’s the case the new paywall could reverse this process. Of course the majority of Times’ writers can be followed on Twitter, and the editorial team haven’t been hidden away in a cupboard since 2010. Some of them started a Tumblr.

@simonhill

Is this freemium, or just for speed? – The Times gets on Tumblr

There’s a brand new Tumblr page kicking about the web this week, and it is a little different to school days nostalgia, inappropriately placed QR codes or a love of charts and Venn diagrams.

A select few of the The Times newspaper’s editorial team have taken to Tumblr and are publishing blog posts, opinion pieces and picture stories. Since coming online yesterday posts have covered a range of topics including gay marriage, protests against Russian President Putin and a gloomy insight into the state of the British summer.

But you may be thinking ‘hang on a minute, what about The Times’ paywall? Isn’t giving away content from some of their top writers flying in the face of the paid content model?’. And you wouldn’t be alone in these thoughts.

Hugo Rifkind seems to be answering similar questions on Twitter. Firstly, lets clarify this is not The Times attempting a freemium model, it’s ‘different’:

Tweet 1 The Times Tumblr

 

The driving force behind it seems to be allowing Times reports to provide content and opinion to readers at increased speed to the print and online site, cutting it from a day to “about 5 mins”:

 

Tweet 2 The Times Tumblr

Or, if you prefer, think of it as Twitter+

 

Tweet 3 The Times Tumblr

 

In fact, that seems like the best way to sum it up. The Times has a less straightforward social media play to non-paywall papers and online news sources – being behind a paywall means sharing content and engaging with readers has to be re-thought.

Direct engagement with content and Times reporters is limited to subscribers and buyers only, so posting on Tumblr is potentially a good way to give some insight into editorial coverage and tempt new readers within the Times’ paywall. It’s not the only paper experimenting with Tumblr, check out the Guardian’s Untangling the Web for another, but it does show The Times isn’t 100% closed to the idea of free content online.

@simonhill

Thanks for the tip @kchadda

 

Times uses Olympics to boost paywall subscribers…by removing the paywall

The Times’ paywall was the first to go up on a UK paper, and since being in place has fallen over on the odd occasions – seemingly by mistake. That was until the Queen had been on the throne for 60 years.

During the Jubilee weekend, a time when the majority of the British public chose to watch the Diamond Jubilee celebrations from the comfort and warmth of their own homes, someone at The Times though it was a good time to drop the paywall. This was an effort to attract un-paying eyeballs and, hopefully, generate a few more paying subscribers.

Times paywall olympics

And it sort of worked. Some 6,000 people registered for The Times or Sunday Times sites over thw weekend according to Media Week. These 6,000 will now be hit up by marketing in an effort to boost subscription numbers.

Bosses at The Times must have been pleased with this number, as the paper is now planning to drop the paywall again during the London 2012 Olympics – presumably thinking the same target audience that was glued to their TV will be stuck in offices during the games and sneaking a look online whenever they can.  However, the paywall will only be down for two or three days during the games, likely around the more prominent events.

Does this mean the paywall model will change following the Olympics, as some suggest? Probably not. As an early foray into the world of paid content it seems to have gone okay. Using increased interest in mass appeal events is more of a marketing evolution than it is a revolution in business model. It’s more likely we’ll see the paywall drop temporally in future around similar scale events – provided there is a consistent small boost in subscriber numbers when it does.

It’s not bad timing by the paper for another reason. A number of London tube stations are being fitted with Wifi in advance of the games, which will be free initially. The first stations are already online at King’s Cross and Warren Street. So those heading to the games, as well as London commuters, may stumble through the paywall in their pre-event browsing.

@simonhill

Is the Telegraph one step closer to a paywall, or kicking off a paid content ‘ladder strategy’?

The Daily Telegraph is about to start charging for its editorial mobile apps, which until now have been free for anyone wanting to read the paper on the go.

In “the coming weeks”, iPhone and Android smartphone uses will have to start forking out £7 a week for the editorial apps as they are bundled into the paper subscription. Only those who already subscribe to the Telegraph print or the £9.99 a month iPad edition will continue to get the apps for free.

Does this mean the paper is one step closer to erecting a paywall around its website content? There has been discussion of such an endeavour last year, following in the national paywall trend of the FT and The Times.

It’s also possible this is the beginning of a ‘ladder strategy’ for the paper, where web content is offered as the free lure followed up an up sell of the physical print paper and convenience of the mobile apps. That would make yet another variation of the national paywall model, coming in underneath the FT’s ‘you get a few articles a month for free, then pay’ and way below The Times’ ‘all or nothing’ payment approach.

Offering short form content that appeals to the mobile user, such as ESPN Premier League video highlights, suggests the Telegraph sees more of a market for this content amongst mobile device users – perhaps thinking they’re more likely to consume video on a commute or double screening at home. The slight drawback is relying on seasonal sports content puts you in danger of losing regular weekly subs during the off season period.

Has the Telegraph found the paid content’s paywall sweet spot? It’s a big ask, but we might find out in ‘the coming weeks’.

@simonhill