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.
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.
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’:
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”:
Or, if you prefer, think of it as Twitter+
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.
Thanks for the tip @kchadda
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.
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.
The Times published an analysis piece over the weekend by business news editor Emily Ford, titled “Why I’m not paying” (you’ll need a subscription to read the article). It’s a short one, but explains succinctly why Emily felt, after a year of paying for Spotify, she prefers the free version.
Despite getting rid of annoying ads, Emily felt syncing music to her mobile had become too much hassle and listening over the web for free is satisfactory. It doesn’t explain what Emily now does for mobile listening. You’d guess good old fashioned downloads or even CD ripping, but then you still have to deal with the hassle of uploading new purchases to your mobile or MP3 player.
Anyhow, Emily finishes her piece with the statement “when you can get something so good for free, why pay?” Any interesting point for a journalist on The Times, the paper with by far the highest and thickest paywall, to make. As Paid Content points out, her subs might have been more than a little surprised when this particular piece of copy crossed their desks.
You can’t compare The Times and Spotify like-for-like, The Times’ subscription model takes an ‘all or nothing’ approach. You don’t get anything for free, not even the by-line. However, both companies have similar goals for their paid content models – getting punters to pay for premium, quality content over free options or stealing it from the Interwebs.
Even with these refined, thought-out offerings, it seems not everyone can be convinced of the value of digital content.
So Facebook is continuing its acquisition of journalists, with the arrival of former Bloomberg hack Dan Fletcher as the platform’s ‘managing editor’ – but what does this mean for online news, is the social media behemoth about to take on traditional giants of the news industry?
It’s an interesting development, not least because of the vast global audience that Facebook could become an aggregator for, with tailored, bespoke news delivery. Such a service could potentially be able to take on one of the biggest challenges to the news industry, namely monetising content in such a fashion that avoids creating silos.
At present, only a few online news providers require a subscription – the FT seemingly the most successful, with revenue from subs overtaking that from advertising for the first time, while the Times has to regularly ‘drops’ its paywall (allegedly) in order to maintain decent levels of ABCs.
The challenge faced is that the public want news from a variety of sources, but are unwilling – unsurprisingly – to pay for each and every source they visit. Facebook becoming an aggregator for news content distribution, in some form or other, could potentially tackle this, with the potential to establish an ‘Oyster Card’ style mechanic.
Under such, readers could buy pre-paid credit for the overarching network of news sites delivered through Facebook, and simply spend it as they wish, with Facebook taking responsibility for distributing fees accordingly. The sheer scale of Facebook’s network would suit such an innovative solution, and would avoid the silos created online at present, whilst also giving the public the news they want, from the sources they want it from.
It’s a long shot, but it might just work…