Winds howl over the deserted moonscape behind Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper paywalls

Discuss

51 Responses to “Winds howl over the deserted moonscape behind Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper paywalls”

  1. Cory Doctorow says:

    Thanks, Tom. It’s a pity you can’t give us figures. What we have here, it seems, is one source who says, “the numbers are small, but I can’t say what they are, but it’s a fine comeuppance for an unlikable media baron” and another who says, “the numbers are big, but I won’t say what they are, but you shouldn’t trust the other guy because he wrote stuff that wasn’t true.” We could go on in this vein — for example, we could enumerate all the public statements from Newscorp execs about copyright that were dead wrong (Rupert: “Fair use is illegal”). Then we could list all the things that people said about NewsCorp that turned out to be unsubstantiated rumor, and so on.

    But you’re the one person in this thread in a position to enter facts into the debate, and you can’t or won’t do so.

    I don’t know why you think that linking will annoy me — I quite like the fact that the internet is made out of websites that anyone can link to.

    • dfletcher says:

      “I quite like the fact that the internet is made out of websites that anyone can link to.”

      Ha that’s great! Nice summary of the feelings most of us will have towards this walled garden. The internet was born open. The people trying to close it are unnatural, antithetical.

      BTW Tom: “we’ve seen links to individual paid article URLs in organic search” … if google can see it, there is a 100% chance that a hacker will find a free way around the paywall. You have a choice to make. Cut off search, or let hackers in.

  2. Cigarsam says:

    @32 Yeah, I was totally taken aback.
    Perhaps Mr. Fitzgerald could give Drudge some tips on design? He seems to have a firm grasp on what a well designed turd is.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “I don’t know why you think that linking will annoy me — I quite like the fact that the internet is made out of websites that anyone can link to. ”

    And, of course, it will be hilarious if he does provide a link because the link will dead end in a paywall that likely no BB reader will actually follow, just proving the point of how The Times is making itself irrelevant on the web–a fact that Tom Whitwell does not dispute with any actual data.

  4. soubriquet says:

    My knife was not out.
    The Times’ site may be chock-full of great journalism, beautifully formatted.
    But so long as there’s a high wall around it, it will remain unvisited by me.

    My objection has nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch. To all those knee-jerkers who react in horror the moment any Murdoch-owned edifice is mentioned, get real, all news from any single source is suspect, and needs to be corroborated by unrelated sources before you trust it.

    Opinion is just that. Every newspaper purveys it.
    reading a spectrum of differing sources is the best protection against media brainwashing. The left wing is just as guilty as the right, reading your enemy is as important as listening to your friend.
    Paywalls effectively take you out of the general debate.

  5. mjfgates says:

    I was just trying to read this comment thread, when a Republican political ad (“Have Patty Murray Killed!” or some such) popped up and started playing video all over me. The contrast with the Old Spice ads, which we were *voluntarily* watching five minutes…. yeeeah.

  6. Neil Fitzgerald says:

    One ingenuous post and, aside of Purplecat and Tom Whitwell, the knives are out. This must be the e-mob I’ve heard so much about.

    Am I a shill for The Times? I’ve written one unpaid review for their sister publication, the TLS. I did include a link to my clippings Tumblr site in my bio, so whilst not “full disclosure”, I didn’t exactly try to hide it. Nor did I hide behind a pseudonym.

    It’s interesting to see how soon these comment threads descend into the usual binary stances of EVIL money-grubbing news proprietor vs GOOD open web, free content types. As if The Times et al were run by a pack of brainwashed hacks. There is plenty of solid journalism to be found among its columnists. One of the columns that got me interested in the power of reportage/op-ed was Theodore Dalrymple’s columns back in the early Nineties. Matthew Parris is another talented political pundit. Meanwhile The Guardian is running daily advertorials for Apple and their products, and filling the “news” glut with lots of fluff. The turn-over of articles on its Comment is Free section is depressing – one every 15 minutes. Nothing is allowed to sink on or be reflected upon. Bottom of the pile comes The Huffington Post, which is literally unreadable, as its pages become ever more crammed with social media widgets, adverts, tags, etc. At least the design of The Times has taken the aspect of reading text on a screen into account.

    It doesn’t really matter, though, does it? You’ll no doubt tear this to shreds, too, dig something else up, sit back and feel satisfied that you kicked someone’s derrière, 2.0-style.

    • mausium says:

      “the knives are out. This must be the e-mob I’ve heard so much about.”

      Stop tut-tutting, your tone trolling is going to get you nowhere.

      I doubt people bothered to click through to internet detective your profile, but your original post came off not as a contrarian, or someone without a vested interest, but as pure astroturf.

      “It’s interesting to see how soon these comment threads descend into the usual binary stances of EVIL money-grubbing news proprietor vs GOOD open web, free content types.”

      False dichotomy. You’re claiming that nothing good is free, and we’re not claiming that nothing pay is good either.

      “Bottom of the pile comes The Huffington Post, which is literally unreadable, as its pages become ever more crammed with social media widgets, adverts, tags, etc.”

      On this, I agree with you. HuffPo is a hideous abomination of trash.

      “It doesn’t really matter, though, does it? You’ll no doubt tear this to shreds, too, dig something else up, sit back and feel satisfied that you kicked someone’s derrière, 2.0-style.”

      Well gosh, now I can’t tell whether you’re a marketer or an insincere troll. Either way, instead of actually getting to know a community, you immediately jump in, stick up for your favorite subscription news service, and disappear.

      If you’re trying to ingratiate yourself to people who in general don’t find much appreciation for the print media, you should probably target your statements more applicably rather than getting the vapors about those internet barbarians.

      Also, The Guardian’s site design may be meh, but at least it’s got Ben Goldacre.

    • Yamara says:

      Cory’s response was perfectly gentlemanly, and if you care to review it, you will observe it included incisive questions. Questions that I’d like to see straight, accurate and confirmable answers to.

      As for Mr. Murdoch, well….

      (In an age of pizza…)

      What a hollow mockery to be the Pork and Bean King.

    • Sheepshank says:

      Meanwhile The Guardian is running daily advertorials for Apple and their products,

      That’s true. Nobody can fault you on that point.

    • daev says:

      “As if The Times et al were run by a pack of brainwashed hacks.”

      We’re talking about a News Corp. property here. I don’t give honest journalism much chance of survival. Murdoch makes his billions by steering his pack of brainwashed hacks, journalistic integrity gets shown the door. It’s just a matter of time.

      “…the knives are out. This must be the e-mob I’ve heard so much about.”

      Surf much? Have you ever seen a discussion of a News Corp. entity where the knives didn’t come out? Were you expecting to be greeted with excitement and rainbows? The mere mention of anything associated with Rupert Murdoch conjures up images of millions of ignorant, polluted minds goose-stepping in time to Fox News’ drumbeat.

      That’s a tough first impression to overcome. You should have thought to bring your own knife.

  7. lilbjorn says:

    Happy to hear that Rupert is hiding all his right-wing drivel. He doesn’t actually expect his cheapskate teabagger audience to pony up actual money, does he?

  8. Anonymous says:

    The Guardian reports that The Times paywall has resulted in a 66% drop off in its audience.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jul/18/times-paywall-readership

    That is significantly less than what was forecast (here and elsewhere).

  9. ranomatic says:

    “…can’t be arsed to log in…” – I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Ha-frakking-ha. Like we didn’t all see THIS coming from a mile away.

  11. Anonymous says:

    In principle, I have no problem with paywalls. Newspapers are not only dying, vulture blogs and websites will continue to feed on their slowly-dying corpses until one day, there’s no news reporting left.

    Then who’s going to do the original reporting? Arianna Huffington? Are you having a laugh?

    If it takes paywalls for the last vestiges of true reporting to survive, then so be it.

    Like everyone else, I enjoy getting stuff for free that I used to have to pay for. But to demand it, and say mean things on the internet when newspapers finally wise-up, is short-sighted and just a little bit rude.

  12. phead says:

    Have we forgotten that Murdoch’s last great internet idea was to buy Myspace? I bet Tom is also “very happy with the traffic, engagement and reader feedback” for that steaming pile also.

    Lets face it, the old man just doesn’t understand the internet, he needs putting out to pasture before he kills News Corp.

  13. Ugly Canuck says:

    Anon no. 14:
    And how do you like paying for that stuff that you used to get for free?

    Maybe the was-once-free and the now-newly-free balance out at a macro level, eh?

    My guess is that as the Net’s wires over time have been getting paid off, the ISP’s are making a killing off selling access to the free content being provided bothers, as people view their monthly $60 ISP tax as some form of payment for content. Like cable companies which do not have to pay the stations they provide carriage for.

    Why not have gov pay for the infrastructure from general taxation, and allow content creators to claim some recompense based upon viewing stats?

    I for one could afford to, and would be more likely to, pay for site access, if I weren’t already paying 2$ a day for net access!

    If that’s what all are paying, then somebody’s making a lot of profit, off providing access, not content, to the net. Why is it not the Government, that is the public, who are getting those gains?

    Why ought we to pay three times?
    Once for general access to content, once by creating content, and finally to view specific content?

    No anonymous, you are dead wrong: we are paying through the nose for stuff that used to be free.

  14. Ugly Canuck says:

    But the gain is not going to the people doing the work.

  15. Ugly Canuck says:

    Finally, I think that maybe there simply ought not to be too much clear profit in providing distractions to fill the idle time of others.
    And boy oh boy do people want to gain clear profits from such useless activity!

  16. Legion971 says:

    Yep, I don’t bother with them now either, there are plenty of free alternatives. THe time and the now dumbed down cartoon of a web site that is the BBC are out of my tabs.

  17. Sam Dodsworth says:

    I ran the registration database for the Times Online back in the late 90s – they tried the “free access, registration required” model then, too.

    I wasn’t actually working for the Times but from my perspective it looked like a complete mess. The total number of registered users never got above about 130,000 although they’d sized the servers for more like ten times that. And even then most of the name and address data was bad – not that anyone every tried to use it for anything, as far as I know. So I’m finding this a very plausible outcome.

  18. Naberius says:

    Interesting point. All the discussion I’ve heard about pay walls to date has focused on the immediate question of whether readers will actually pay for the content, i.e. what value journalism has for consumers. It’s always assumed that the content itself would remain the same.

    I hadn’t heard anyone consider the question from the other side, i.e. what value journalism has for sources, the people who give information to journalists so they can produce the content. Sources generally deal with reporters because they have some message or agenda they want to promote in the public sphere. So a paper that walls itself off from that sphere, unless perhaps it can narrowly target a very specific niche that sources want to communicate with, has greatly reduced its usefulness to those sources. And thus the pay wall ends up actually changing the content of the news itself.

  19. Tom Whitwell says:

    Hi Cory,

    We’re very happy with the traffic, engagement and reader feedback on thetimes.co.uk so far. Obviously, it’s down on a free site, as we expected, but it’s certainly no ghost town.

    Michael Wolff’s sources aren’t always as informed as he thinks:

    ‘Ruper Murdoch is about to sell The Times’ (No, he isn’t)
    http://twitter.com/MichaelWolffNYC/status/8116794798

    ‘Rupert Murdoch isn’t really going to launch a paywall on The Times’ (Yes, he is)
    (Tried to find that link on Newser but got disheartened by all the Miley Cyrus Upskirt headlines)

    Tom Whitwell (Assistant Editor, The Times)

    • Cory Doctorow says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      Do you have specific facts that refute Wolff’s claims?

      For example: what proportion of print subscribers log in? How many visit the site via links from third-party sites?

      How many non-print-subscriber signups have you had, and how does this compare to your projections?

      • Tom Whitwell says:

        Well, we’re not releasing figures yet, but…

        We are seeing referrals from search and from other sites. Matt Drudge linked to us yesterday, which was a surprise, and had the normal spectacular impact. We get significant traffic from twitter, but we haven’t done a really detailed conversion analysis on that traffic yet.

        Google’s algorithm seems to still be coming to terms with what’s happened – we’ve completely dropped out of Google News, but we’ve seen links to individual paid article URLs in organic search, which we didn’t think would be even possible.

        The ratio of comments to users has drastically increased, as we expected – the most engaged commenters seem the most likely to subscribe, and we’re working hard with our moderation team to ensure commenters feel well looked after.

        The non-subscriber signups are obviously what we’re monitoring most closely, and they’re exceeding expectations at the moment.

        This is a big, difficult experiment that we’re doing because we think it will help secure the future of our journalism.

        I’ve been on a few panels with folks from The Guardian recently. They’re doing a different experiment, but we have surprisingly similar aims.

        There are no winds. There is no moonscape. Flippin’ science fiction writers…

        Tom

        • Anonymous says:

          “Matt Drudge linked to us yesterday, which was a surprise”

          Yes, it sure is unusual when Matt Drudge links to a Murdoch property. Unthinkable, it is.

        • soubriquet says:

          Whilst I’m delighted to hear that the wind is NOT whistling behind the paywall, I’m one of your ex-website-readers, and will remain so.
          Yes, I do buy the paper, occasionally. I buy, in rotation, the various main broadsheets, and compare their take on news stories. But the website? No. I won’t pay a fee, nor will I give you a heap of information about myself. I see no reason for you to have my details on your database.

          If the Guardian is venturing into the same territory, then it’ll be goodbye Grauniad too.

        • Cigarsam says:

          “…our journalism.”

          Next you’ll tell me that Fox News is “Fair and Balanced”.

          Wait…

  20. Anonymous says:

    Sorry Tom W. but Rupert’s track record is littered with blatant political axe-grinding and outright propaganda (e.g. Fox News going on about whether the nuclear summit symbol is actually an Islamic symbol), there is just no other way to describe it. Even if the Times feels like they are in a benign ownership right now I wouldn’t bet on it staying that way for long. Any editorial independance you feel you may have now isn’t going to survive.

  21. Joe in Australia says:

    Matt Drudge linked to us yesterday, which was a surprise, and had the normal spectacular impact.

    Wait, what? The Times, a newspaper more than two and a quarter centuries old, is pleased and flattered because someone linked to it? “The Thunderer”, England’s newspaper of record, actually notices an uptick in readers because Matt Drudge thinks a story is worthy of a bit of attention?

    I hope you’ve got a good pension plan, because you’re going under.

  22. Dan says:

    “No, no, no! Everything’s fine behind the curtain. The great and powerful Oz is indeed great and powerful. No need to look. Trust us!”

  23. Neil Fitzgerald says:

    @Tom Whitwell

    As an Englishman and writer living abroad for the past six years, and getting most of my news from online sources (living in Vietnam made it a necessity), I have to say that the new Times website looks very impressive. No one seems to have commented on this fact – it really looks like a newspaper, and makes excellent use of screen space. The navigation at the top is also very intuitive. The recent overhaul of The Guardian’s site, however, has had the opposite effect on me as a reader.

    As a result, I’ve never been more tempted to subscribe to anything online, especially since the print version of The Sunday Times that is available in Paris, where I now reside, doesn’t have the columnist I most like reading (AA Gill). So I can certainly see myself signing up in the future.

    The more one trawls through the exponetial free content, the more one notices how often it is poor content – poorly written, badly researched, and sorely lacking in fact-checking. When people see how much thought has gone into the design of the Times site alone, why wouldn’t they be prepared to pay?

    • Anonymous says:

      @9 I ALSO APPROVE OF THIS PRODUCT AND WOULD LIKE TO SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR NEWSPAPER.

      Good god, maybe this person isn’t a shill, but it sure sounds like a terribly stupid and uninformed ad.

      “The more one trawls through the exponetial free content, the more one notices how often it is poor content – poorly written, badly researched, and sorely lacking in fact-checking. When people see how much thought has gone into the design of the Times site alone, why wouldn’t they be prepared to pay?”

      When I trawl through the “exponential” paid content, the more i notice how it’s poorly written, badly researched, and sorely lacking in fact-checking.

      At least when the steaming pile of shit is presented before me, I didn’t pay for it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Try not to be so obvious please. Subtlety is the key.

    • Purplecat says:

      Thanks for your first comment here on boingboing.

      On the wider topic, I happen to have a nasty, sneaking suspicion that this is merely the first act in a longer game.

      If this paywall does end up making no money, stage 22 is to complain loudly and at great length to the UK government (heavily laden with rupert’s friends) about the terribly disruptive effect that the BBC is having on the online news market.

    • Phrosty says:

      When people see how much thought has gone into the design of the Times site alone, why wouldn’t they be prepared to pay?

      We didn’t have to pay before, nor do we still have to, so why should we? I can’t help but think you’re just trying to paint pretty pictures of the people who sign your paycheck: the Times Literary Supplement, published by News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation. I hope I’m wrong, and that your opinion is genuine.

      http://thelanguagegame.tumblr.com/post/738814033/my-first-review-for-the-times-literary-supplement

    • Tom Whitwell says:

      Thanks Neil. A few people have mentioned our design, and been kind about it.
      I don’t think design alone will sell any website. We have to deliver on a promise of journalistic depth and quality – just today Deborah Haynes and Jack Hill filed a phenomenal piece from Helmand (I won’t put in a link, because it will annoy Cory) which is richer and deeper online than it could be in the newspaper.

  24. jeligula says:

    The paper I work at has a daily print circulation of 33,000. Our online subscriptions are at 18,000, but you can still log on to the home page to get some news without having to pay for it or give up personal information by registering.

  25. bjacques says:

    Because the content is the same old Murdoch-approved eyewash?

  26. Anonymous says:

    When your competition is a click away making me jump through hoops or tossing a dead (aka pay to continue) link to me is a great way to turn me away.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Tom Whitwell (Assistant Editor, The Times):
    Tried to find that link on Newser but got disheartened by all the Miley Cyrus Upskirt headlines)

    That’s funny, because I get the exact same feeling looking at the headlines of your sister papers, the Sun and the News of the World.

  28. Anonymous says:

    “I’ve never been more tempted to subscribe to anything online”

    “So I can certainly see myself signing up in the future.”

    So even the non-affiliated guy who likes the site hasn’t actually signed up for the service.

  29. Viriathus says:

    Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving mogul.

  30. Anonymous says:

    “A few people have mentioned our design, and been kind about it.
    I don’t think design alone will sell any website”

    True, but it goes a long way. Design isn’t just aesthetics, but experience.

    I’m guessing you have a gripe with your UX head?

  31. Anonymous says:

    “we’ve seen links to individual paid article URLs in organic search”

    Hmm. If google can see it I bet I can too! Now there’s a challenge for my Friday :-P

  32. Blue says:

    Online news is either part of an open conversation or it doesn’t. fucking. exist.

    Thanks for listening.

  33. Anonymous says:

    This suggests that information continues its relentless march to being free. Combined with trends in music and video, it may be that traditional media channels, once viable revenue producers on their own, may become simply the marketing arms of corporations that make real stuff (e.g., Carlos Slim investing in the NY Times). I understand Noam Chomsky and others may say this is already happening/has already happened, but the media still retained some degree of independent existence. In the future, firms like CBS, NY Times, and others may openly market themselves as service firms providing such services as sophisticated product positioning.

Leave a Reply