Reactions coming thick and fast to Rupert Murdoch’s Times paywalls

A lot of people are posting on the Wapping paywalls. This is my completely subjective selection:

The Drum has rounded up a few reactions from creative/advertising/PR types and the gist is a mix of time-will-tells and jury-still-outs. One interesting point was that the design of the site made it difficult to navigate on the iPad, which is odd given the resources the Times is devoting to the Apple device.

George Brock, professor and head of journalism at City University London, tells the Independent, reasonably enough, that it’s too early to tell whether the Wapping “experiment” will succeed.

John Naughton, in the Observer, also takes up the “experiment” line, saying “Rupert Murdoch may be richer or poorer as a result, but we will all be much the wiser.” My guess is Mr Murdoch will be poorer and the prevailing wisdom – absolute paywalls don’t work for general news content – will be confirmed.

Steve Outing at least lays his cards on the table, saying Rupert Murdoch’s move is uber-dumb. He makes a point of how “hard” the paywalls actually are – no Google indexing and no deep links. He suggests the Guardian’s all-open, all the time strategy is better suited to the web.

On the courageously pro-paywall side is this two-week-old piece from Prospect magazine, “Murdoch is right”. It asks “If we value good journalism, why don’t we pay for it online?” It doesn’t answer the question even remotely, but it’s worth a read and, ironically enough, it’s in the “free” section of their freemium-model website.

I’ve now heard two sources inside the Times, one direct, one relayed, that holding five per cent of their pre-paywall audience would be considered a success by Mr Murdoch and his expanding crew. As I’ve already posted, the sums just don’t add up on that for me.

Adrian Weckler, a tech reporter with the Sunday Business Post in Dublin, reported on twitter that he was offered a year’s subscription for £50, less than half the touted £2-a-week rate. He also pointed out that the subscription email referred to “joining 100,000 other subscribers”. But how many of those will remain beyond the £1 for 30 days trial period?

Poynter compares the Timeses’ approach to paywalls with the metered model the FT is using and the New York Times is planning. Again, to anyone who missed it, these semi-open paywalls are the better choice because they still allow discovery by Google, they allow deep linking from bloggers, tweets and Facebook updates and thereby maintain the exposure and currency of the Timeses’ expensive columnists and commentators. The “freemium” model also allows wide advertising of different price points at which consumers can enter – starting with the best one, free. The Times seems to ignore a fairly basic point of marketing.

My two cents is that the plan doesn’t seem coherent – the timing of the changes is unclear, the pricing is unclear and the underlying strategy for growing a web presence and associated revenues is non-existent. As I’ve mentioned before, I would have liked to see what the Times could have done in the open with the level of resources and attention it has thrown at a doomed paywall.

Finally, those papers and online news providers wishing to stay open but still looking to cut costs and needless levels of middle management procurement and implementation bureaucracy would do worse than look at the Ben Franklin project. Belated Happy Independence Day, Americans!

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