Alex Massie

The Times Goes for Broke

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  Rupert Murdoch is scarcely infallible and there's a sense abroad that he doesn't really understand the internet. But even if that's true it doesn't mean that his decision to take the Times behind a paywall is necessarily a mistake even if, naturally, it's inconvenient for bloggers and other news-grazers.

So journalist me sort of hopes that Murdoch's gamble, beginning today with the launch of a new and sleeker Times website, works; blogger and consumer me is less optimistic and not just because the Times paywall is an upfront charge, not the metered system favoured by the Financial Times and, soon, the New York Times.

In one sense £2 a week is not a great sum to pay. If the Times were the only paper with an online edition one might even think it a bargain. But it isn't and so that £2 a week starts to look like a heftier sum. I like Danny Finkelstein, Matthew Parris, Rachel Sylvester and Mike Atherton a lot but do I want to pay £104 a year to read them? Perhaps I do, but how many others will think there's a big enough difference between their product and the stuff you can get for free?

But even here there's a cultural problem: how many readers who've grown-up with "free" newspapers will sign-up? True, newspapers often spend far too much time and effort and mony chasing the "youth" market and alienating their existing base as they hop abaord the latest faddish bandwagon but in this instance forgetting about the kids adds risk to an enterprise already loaded with hazard.

The Wapping Paywall makes a certain amount of sense; it would make even more if other papers - that is, all of them - also joined* in. Perhaps more will in the future. If that happens then the 1997-2010 era will be recalled both as a crippling age for newspaper-producing but a golden one for newspaper-reading. If Rupert is right then those happy times are coming to an end.

*But if everyone joined in then you'd also create an incentive for someone to break away and offer a free-site. There may be advantages in being first into the paywall pool since, apart from anything else, if this really is a growing trend one has to wonder how many people would be prepared to purchase more than one onlline newspaper subscription.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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