The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin
Bob Dylan has been described as prophetic by far better writers than me in the past but once again I’ll hang that lazy title on him, although I doubt he had one of Rupert Murdoch’s pre-eminent newspapers in mind when he wrote it.
As you are probably aware News International owners of, among others, The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers announced they would be charging for online content from June. This is a big day for papers here, currently no national dailies or Sunday’s charge for online editions in the UK. Many have spoken about doing it and some even took tentative steps however this will be the first time a large mainstream paper has gone fully behind a paywall. It’s a brave or foolish move depending on your viewpoint and everyone in the media is waiting to see if it will be a success; and that might be where their first problem lies.
Currently The Times is the second best selling ‘broadsheet’ (it ceased being a broadsheet a few years ago but the label is less to do with size and more to do with style) in Britain and the best selling one, The Daily Telegraph, isn’t charging for its online content, yet. Likewise none of their other competitive papers are charging either so if you don’t fancy paying you’ve got plenty of alternatives.
The second issue they face is cost, at £1 for one day’s access or £2 for a week, whilst not expensive it isn’t as cheap as it could have been either. The price of the actual newspaper is £1 so in practice there is no saving which is a surprise.
By their own admission they currently receive about 20 million unique visitors a month, the advertising on the site is sold on this basis and for any of us in advertising reaching 20 million people a month is attractive. Now even the most optimistic of their executives can’t expect to maintain those numbers, so what is their aim, half, a quarter, a tenth? At what point does the loss of advertising revenue balance with the new hoped for revenue stream?
What’s happening to the newspapers is of interest to us, they were this industries lifeblood once and their steep decline has been detrimental to advertisers. Rupert Murdoch has been saying for a while that he won’t continue to create ‘content’ which he then gives away for nothing. I think most people can see where he’s coming from on that however I can’t help but think he’s applying old rules to a new game. The Times needs to be so much better than its competition for this to be a success and I’m not convinced it is, add to that it now faces direct competition from broadcasters online, particularly the BBC and you have to wonder about the wisdom of this move. A cynic might also wonder about its timing, coming shortly after a General Election, one where the might of Murdoch’s media has been thrown directly, and aggressively, behind the current opposition; perhaps he knows something about future changes in broadcast funding that we don’t?
But more importantly for me is the relevance of a paid for site covering all topics, which essentially is what The Times will be. Today a carefully chosen Twitter List can give you more insights and information on a chosen subject than any one newspaper could ever hope too. Apps for your phone cover so many areas and interests that surely this is the way we’ll get news going forward, and as social media sites become ever more intuitive the day isn’t far away when they’ll show you the news you want, from a multitude of sources, at a time and place of your choosing.
Any personal antipathy I might have for Rupert Murdoch I can put aside when I say The Times is a very good newspaper and The Sunday Times is even better, but come June I’m certain they aren’t going to be so much better that I’m going to pay for them over their free competitors, the Metro newspaper surely taught us that. More importantly we’ll be watching their unique visitor numbers with interest because a significant drop in them is of far more interest to us and our clients.
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.