Friday, July 23, 2010

Update on Murdoch's Pay Wall

The Times of London went behind a paywall on June 15. In addition, the owner of The Times, Rupert Murdoch, blocked search engines from including Times stories in their search results. The authors must love this! This was covered at the Law Librarian Blog by Mark Giangrande, who also reported on the "steep decline in online viewers" since the changeover to the paywall. One source reports a decline of 65% in online readers, while another reports 90%--both large numbers, to be sure, and large enough that no one could claim that the paywall has been a success so far.

An interesting twist on The Times's paywall experiment is provided by Michael Wolff at Newser. Wolff declares that

Will [Murdoch's] paywall work is the biggest story in the media business, and it would be quite a journalistic coup to document the progress, or lack thereof, that's being made in trying to convince a skeptical world to shell out 2 pounds ($3) a week for what's heretofore been free.

He is not reporting on himself because even less than most news outlets, Murdoch outlets have no objective sense when it comes to their own interests ... or willingness to ask questions which the boss might find uncomfortable, or penchant for anything but the party line. The news from News Corp. is always snarlingly good--even when it is very bad.

My sources say that not only is nobody subscribing to the website, but subscribers to the paper itself--who have free access to the site--are not going beyond the registration page. It's an empty world.

Why would writers want to write for The Times if their work is not going to be read? Some might feel that Murdoch is the "last best hope for getting us paid for our labors" but writers want to be read; as Wolff points out, readers are the "real currency" of writers. Will the paper become irrelevant in a world of free news? The Wall Street Journal is behind a partial paywall and seems to be profitable, but the Journal occupies a very special niche with few real competitors. Can The Times make that claim? What implications does Murdoch's experiment with The Times have for The New York Times, which plans to erect its paywall in 2011? Murdoch's goal seems to be to protect the market for the print newspaper, but hasn't that train already left the station?

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