Robert Hampton

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4th July 2010

The Times, they are a-chargin’

Rupert Murdoch’s nefarious plans have come to fruition and The Times web site is now behind a paywall. As of July 2nd, anyone wanting to click past the newspaper’s (admittedly quite nice-looking) front page will now need to flash their credit card in News International’s direction.

Will this drive away punters? Almost certainly, and the Guardian wasted no time publishing a (slightly smug) “welcome” message to disaffected Times readers.

I’m guessing from the tone of that piece that the Guardian are sticking with the “free” model for the foreseeable future, but how long can that situation continue? Most newspapers are losing money and online advertising does not bring in enough revenue to compensate. New revenue sources will have to be found somewhere. Good journalism is not cheap, and it does seem a bit commercially suicidal of newspapers to give away their content for free.

On the other hand, hiding articles behind a paywall means that same quality product is at risk of being ignored by the wider internet. There will be no Google News alerts pointing to Times articles; bloggers will no longer have the option of linking to a Times article to back up their views; on Twitter, there will be few short URLs going to The Times. Overall, there will be a big drop in traffic: will there be enough people paying money to the Times to justify taking their web site out of the global conversation?

In fact, with so many other free news sources online (for now, at least) will anyone be prepared to pay? The Financial Times has charged for some time, but that’s a specialist publication for a niche market, offering in-depth coverage not provided elsewhere. The Times, on the other hand, is a mainstream newspaper — who will pay to access the Times when the same news can be found on the BBC, Telegraph, Guardian, New York Times and a thousand other sources on Google News? Is Jeremy Clarkson’s column a sufficient draw to tempt people to pay £1?

In summary, I’m sceptical. But if it stops overseas bloggers referring to “The Times of London” in their links (that’s NOT what the paper is called!) I’ll be happy.

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