Monday 23 November 2009

The great British newspaper pay wall split

Ian Burrell in the Independent today predicts: "The British newspaper industry is on the verge of an historic schism, a fundamental split in beliefs that will set one part of the business on a collision course with the other.
"Far greater than the ideological differences that have traditionally set apart the great national titles, this divergence in opinion – over whether the written word should be a free commodity or one that is charged for – will set the news industry at each other’s throats."
He says he battle lines became clearer last week following the speech by James Harding, editor of The Times, to the Society of Editors conference, in which he said that his site would begin charging in the spring, with subscription offers that included access for a single 24-hour period.
Burrell quotes Spectator publisher Andrew Neil saying: “As an industry we took a huge wrong turn. It was a new technology and we didn’t quite understand it. We had been told that if we got the eyeballs – in the usual digital dotcom jargon – the money would follow. Well, we got the eyeballs and the money hasn’t followed.”
Mike Anderson, a former senior executive at both News Corp and Associated Newspapers, says in the article: “The first truth that we have to come to terms with is that the existing model does not work and cannot continue. The internet is no longer a new media, it has matured and is well understood. It is a real world. So what are we doing in that real space? We are spending millions and millions providing fuel for somebody else’s engine – crazy!”
Emily Bell, director of digital content for Guardian News & Media, says: “It’s about whether you think your web presence should be closed or open. We’ve probably been unique in being ultra-open.”
Simon Kelner, the managing director and editor-in-chief of the Independent, takes the view that online users will not pay for news, but may pay for “unique” elements of a newspaper’s output. “The idea that payment could be levied for a generalised news service is clearly out of date. Why would anyone pay for a service that the BBC offers for free? However, publications with a niche following have found a market for their offering, which is why The Financial Times, for instance, can be bullish about their subscription model. Newspapers may be able to follow this example to a limited degree by charging for the content that makes their publication unique – commentators, specialist correspondents, even something like horseracing tips.”

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