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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Murdoch's retreat « Previous | |Next »
March 27, 2010

I see that Murdoch's The Times and the Sunday Times in the UK are to start charging for content online in June 2010. Users will be charged £1 for a day's access and £2 for a week's subscription for access to both papers' website. They are the first UK papers to fully charge for digital content. I'm an occasional visitor --"passing traffic"---but I'm not impressed by the content offered.

So I will just avoid them and increasingly turn to The Guardian, which is a better newspaper in that it avoids the slide in quality.

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The principle is if people find it valuable they will pay it. If they don't find it valuable they won't pay it. News International has implied that its other titles, the Sun and the News of the World, would follow. Who cares. Not me. They are tabloid junk that indulges in mass deception.

Jeff Jarvis comments:

By building his paywall around Times Newspapers, he has said that he has no new ideas to build advertising. He has no new ideas to build deeper and more valuable relationships with readers and will send them away if they do not pay. Even he has no new ideas to find the efficiencies the internet can bring in content creation, marketing, and delivery....Murdoch is a stranger in a strange land. All he has left to do is build a wall around himself and shrink away, a vestige of his old, bold self. Who would have thought that we'd end up feeling pity for the man?

I guess that the BBC's news website is likely to be the greatest beneficiary in the UK if papers charge for access. And the ABC in Australia.Much of the newspaper industry is falling behind Murdoch on paywalls. News Corp has made every mistake you can possibly make about the internet: they under-invested in technology, they imposed their own top-down culture on this, they saw this as an extension of their fundamental content business, the media business ... instead of thinking that this was an entirely different business with new norms and new behaviours. News Corp is not really an interesting digital company.

Paper is passé. This battle is over cyberspace. Murdoch has as good as given in.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:56 PM | | Comments (19)
Comments

Comments

This smacks to me of another 'new formula Coke' decision, where everybody except the people responsible shake their heads and wonder how it can possible be a good idea ... and it isn't.

My newspaper is a buck a day and $1.80 on saturday so what they are charging is what people are paying anyway for the paper version which really is yesterdays news by the time you get it. Yes, there are editorials but they will be online too.
$5 a week will appeal to a lot of people to read a selection of papers. Bit like foxtel where you pay extra for more channels. It doesnt appeal to me yet because I like to walk down the road and get the paper but my tastes may change.

An interesting bit of history--- Blogging, Now and Then---on the New York Book Review Blog.

Les,
some people are still willing to buy and read news printed on paper and desire traditional newspaper values, which extend to the proverbial wall that separates news coverage from business interests or political inclinations.

We only buy the AFR on Saturdays and that's it. I read newspapers online. I'll glance through the Australian or the AFR when I'm in my local coffeeshop during the week, but that's it. The slide of much of contemporary journalism into banality is obvious, as is the illusory claims to neutrality.

Tom Engelhardt makes the following comments about newspapers response to the internet:

the newspaper of record seems to be doing the same thing. In August 2007, it literally shrank, losing an inch and a half in width, and has been thinning ever since, while only its price has grown. Its almost ad-less magazine section is now a wisp of its former self. As the paper dwindles, it increasingly puts the news on a starvation diet.... All of this has revealed just how mistaken most of us were about what a newspaper was. We thought it was a medium for the news, but it turned out to be, above all, a vessel for the distribution of ads. And once those ads began to flee (mainly online), the news has had little choice but to curl up and prepare to die.

Murdoch could be seen as protecting the value of his product. The New York Times is saying that it would start charging for online content in 2011.

Here's Rupert chatting about payment for news: http://tv.nationalreview.com/uncommonknowledge/post/?q=ZTY2OTI3NjczM2IwYTU0NTA4MDlkNjc0MTJjYTQ4MzA=

To me he sounds like a rather confused old man engaging in wishful thinking. Lachlan obviously knew what he was doing when he jumped ship.

I haven't seen any reliable figures on it, but it seems reasonable to assume that a lot of the online audience don't, and didn't, read newspapers until they came online. I'd never read Andrew Bolt before and only ever bought the Australian when something big was happening. And I stopped doing that when it became too obviously fond of Howard.

I would think a lot of the online audience are not normally news buying people. So the paywall is only likely to shrink the audience back to what it would be if they weren't on the net.

I can't see that it's going to do anything for the bottom line, either through subscriptions or advertising.

Les,
Yesterday a bloke in the supermarket asked me whether it was the Bulletin he was holding. He didn't recognise it. I told him it might make him feel like menstruating. Laughs all round.

Gary,
Yes I am afraid newspaper values relate to the value that is generated to the shareholders and neutrality is holding a story in neutral till you see which angle will generate better.

Its going to get ugly as the pay rags compete for news.

Ken,
Rupert Murdoch remains pretty keen on tablet devices for newspaper and magazines. He sees Apple's iPad as a game changer in that we consumers will be reading The Australian or the Wall Street Journal on our iPads on a subscription basis.

Rupert see the iPad as a potential new source of subscription and advertising income, and he hopes that this platform will help him make lots of money by charging a monthly fee rather than a one-off fee.

True Gary but he doesn't seem to have any evidence for his belief. His dismissive rejection of focus groups suggests that he has fallen victim to the myth of the hero manager who somehow has insights denied to normal people.

The iPad's singular weakness is that it's too big and fragile. Even if it becomes popular, I don't see how that will affect people's willingness to pay for news. They seem like quite separate issues. Murdoch appears determined to steer News Ltd away from any kind of mass media into a small, diminishing niche market.

Trying to charge for something that people have got used to having for free is pretty much unprecedented. It might be viable if everyone did it but they won't. Indeed this seems like a golden opportunity for public broadcasters to take the dominant role in news, which would be a great thing if their charters were amended to make them truly independent.

Lyn,
I once had a little machine in Tassie that could press old newspapers into a brick-like rectangle and I would use them on the fire. Perhaps with a bit of inventing the bulletin could be fashioned into sanitory pads.

Ken,
re your comment:

Murdoch appears determined to steer News Ltd away from any kind of mass media into a small, diminishing niche market.

yes judging by his comments about the Wall Street Journal being read on Kindle and the New York Post charging for the sport section.

He is making some money from the niche market (free market business crowd and the lovers of sport).

In Tablets will profit from doom of traditional media in The Australian Mark Day says:

The iPad and other tablets have two advantages over other electronic readers for newspapers and magazines: easy use that closely replicates the "feel" of a paper product and mobile ubiquity. In other words, it's something you can take anywhere and use any time.

Anyone who has used the finger-flicking feature on an iPhone will understand its appeal on a larger-size screen. It's just like turning a page. Add to that the bells and whistles in the development pipeline, such as the ability to tap a picture in a newspaper-like layout and see it come alive as a video, and it's clear there is a whole new interactive experience in store for us.

If publishers tailor their products to these strengths, they stand a good chance of creating new markets capable of delivering profits and therefore, sustainability.

News Ltd is expecting growth from the younger end of the market, who are seen to be demanding more and more content delivered in every possible format.

Ken,
Mark Day does the maths in his Tablets will profit from doom of traditional media in The Australian :

Let's do the maths: About 15 million Australian individuals are internet-enabled, so if 35 per cent have a favourite news website we can anticipate one-fifth of those, or just over a million, would sign up for paid content. If we assume a cost of, say, $1 a day, or $30 a month, that's $420 a year multiplied by a million. I figure that would pay the wages of a few content providers. It would certainly replace some of the revenues lost to traditional media during the global downturn.

It looks back of envelope math to me.

Mark Day is an even bigger idiot than I imagined. 35% of Australian internet users have a favourite news web site? Where did THAT absurd premise come from? Unless he's counting Facebook, MySpace and porn pages as news sites.

My guess is that the figure is closer to 5%. I'm one of them and my preferred site is the ABC. No joy for Rupert there. Numbers 2 and 3 are CNN and UPI, but I wouldn't dream of paying for them.

The Australian and News Corp are inching ever closer to endorsement of Apple and its "exciting new toys" in their embrace of ">digital magazines and newspapers being the future.

They are developing an application for the iPad platform when they don't have the platform available.They see the possibility of selling more of their content through online stores akin to the iTunes Music Store and App Store.

My guess is that Murdoch + Co are extrapolating from Apple's iPhone: the arrival of the 3G version of Apple's device a year and a half ago dramatically altered the mobile industry and proved that consumers, given the right device, will do much, much more than use their phone to make calls and send texts. So they start dreaming about their loyal consumers desiring all their content and willing to pay for it.

No doubt the dynamic, complex content that can be delivered in a tablet PC magazine edition is already resulting in in-fighting inside print publishers (magazines and newspapers) as to who assumes control over the iPad editions--the print staff, or the already digital-savvy Net edition staff.

The latter would see the possibilities of embedding audio, video, and gaming into everything publishers do. The .epub format, which is the standard for ebooks at the present, is designed to support traditional narrative text---at the expense of all but not the extra stuff for mobile devices.

Agree with Ken on Rupert's imaginings about tablets, partly for the reasons Ken gives, but for others as well. I think the huge success of the iPhone contributes to optimism about iPad/Kindle gadgets while missing the cultural point of the thing.

Tablets will never be the status symbols iPhones are, partly because of their size and fragility, but mostly because of their purpose. An iPad doesn't suggest that you're so enormously popular that you need an expensive new gadget to more effectively manage your party invites or alert your Facebook friends to your fabulous new haircut.

Rupert's thesis makes the same mistake Conroy is currently making about the internet - that it's a media environment and therefore all about content. It's not. It has more in common with a telephone than a newspaper.

Les,
You want women to put the Bulletin where?

Lyn+ Ken,
I don't think that Rupert Murdoch actually understands the internet. He's just started using email and has never 'googled.' So i internet is just pipes--information superhighway?-- to download News Ltd's content to us passive consumers.

Same with Mark Day. He is just beginning to grapple with social networking and Web 2.0 and has yet to click to the emergence, and significance of, user generated content.

They have yet to grasp that participants in open source projects, citizen journalists + bloggers, citizen engaged in political processes, and participants in Wikipedia, YouTube and Flickr are no longer merely consuming or using preproduced material.

Sure, they are not at all times acting as fully self-determined producers of fully formed new works. They do however, occupy a hybrid position as produsers of content.

This foreshadows possible digital futures that are quite different to the closed corporate one envisioned by a defensive News Ltd making war on "pirates" stealing their content and intellectual property.

Mumbrella gives a plausible account of what Murdoch's Times strategy would look like in Australia.

Roy Greenslade observes:

No one disputes that journalism requires funding and that the retreat of advertising from paid-for print newspapers has proved to be profoundly challenging. Similarly, the discovery that advertising volume and revenues would not simply flow from print to screen was a major disappointment, if not a disaster, for all publishers.

He adds that the other unpalatable truth for Murdoch's critics is that, thus far, no one has managed to find an alternative guaranteed to fund the kind of journalism we have grown used to in the past half-century. There are many experiments.
Hybrid funding models may well work and we should hope that they do. In a sense, Murdoch's ambition to maintain both a print paid-for presence and create a sizeable online paid-for audience amounts to the same thing. We should not dismiss the possibility that he could make it work.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that convincing people to subscribe to obtain information that is readily accessible elsewhere is going to be a hard slog.