The fact that your can read newspaper websites for free has meant that many people no longer choose to buy the paper version. And since advertising revenues for websites are much lower than their printed counterparts, the Times – like all other national papers – have been losing money hand over fist.
Most recent figures are that the Times lost £87m in the last year alone.
So Rupert Murdoch is making the brave step of trying to charge users for access to the news on its website.
This is a huge challenge for two separate reasons:
1. Why pay when you can get it for free
With all other newspaper websites, not to mention the BBC, giving away access to the news for free, why would people pay to get the same information for the Times?
Niche newspapers and journals such as the FT have been successful at charging for online content, but only because they have specialist journalists delivering information that can’t be found elsewhere. That’s hardly the case with the Times.
2. Search Engines can’t spider the content
A key source of traffic to newspaper websites is Google and other search engines. Web users often search online for the latest news and events, and as newspaper websites have a rolling delivery of the latest developments they are often the recipients of visitors from search.
By introducing a paywall, Murdoch is blocking the ability for search engines to ‘read’ the latest content that is added to The Times website. And if search engines can’t read it, then they can’t rank it higher in the search engine results page.
What is everyone else doing?
Other news providers have rejected charging for content. Some favour a system of micropayments that would allows users to make small payments for access to specific niche content. Others – such as the Guardian – have introduced a paid-for iPhone app that gives users a ‘personalised’ version of the news.
A good innovation?
Despite these factors, News International are pressing ahead with their plans. Since they are losing money anyway, perhaps they see no alternative. Murdoch reckons that he’d rather have fewer customers who were paying. And he has always been a good innovator – look at Sky.
What do you think of the plans? Would you be prepared to pay for access to the news? Leave us a comment below.