Two Murdoch UK Papers To Charge Online Readers

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has been on the warpath against the idea of giving the Internet audience free access to the content provided by his newspapers.

Which is odd since when he first acquired The Wall Street Journal and its parent company Dow Jones, his first instinct was to propose removing that newspaper's paywall.

But we're all allowed to change our minds and he clearly has changed his. He left the Journal's paywall intact.

And now he's plans on erecting similar walls on two of his British newspaper websites. Starting in June, The Times and The Sunday Times will start charging about $1.50 for daily use and about $3 for a week.

Here's an excerpt from The Times site. (I'm going to make the most of its free site while I still can):

The two titles will launch new websites in early May, separating their digital presence for the first time and replacing the existing site. There will be a free trial period and payment will allow access to both and

Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, said: "At a defining moment for journalism, this is a crucial step towards making the business of news an economically exciting proposition. We are proud of our journalism and unashamed to say that we believe it has value."

Mrs Brooks added that News International's two other titles, The Sun and The News of the World, would follow.

In January, the New York Times announced that it would charge some frequent readers for access to its website. The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal already have adopted online subscription models.

I'm of two minds. Like a lot of heavy readers of web news and analysis sites, I like free. How could you not like getting something for nothing?

But as a journalist and former long-time newspaper reporter, I realize there really is no free lunch. We freeloaders may be getting access to news without paying for it but there actually is a cost.

With nothing comparable to the revenue from dead-tree circulation, most newspaper web sites rely solely on their online ad revenue and that revenue has generally been one-tenth of what print ads could generate.

It's hard to keep the wolf from the door when newspapers have to sell ten times the amount of advertising, if that's even possible, to equal the revenue from print ads.

So newspaper companies, whose layoffs rival the auto or construction industry, are fighting to get revenue where they can and who can blame them? Thus the paywalls.

But that doesn't mean readers will like it. One commenter on the Times site probably speaks for a lot of readers.

The penultimate, desperate death knoll of newspaper journalism. What News Group fail to realise is that people aged 16-30 are not willing to pay for their news anymore. WE JUST WON'T. Why should we? These are the customers for the next 50 years.

We were brought up engulfed in advertising, told that we were "individuals" whose "opinions mattered." We want to be able to comment without restriction (other than the obvious abuse no-nos), to debate with other readers. We won't pay for the privilege of knowing what's going on in the world. There are many other places to get news free. By all means, plaster the web page with advertising. We're numbed to it, we'll notice the products and services we're interested in, ignore the ones we're not.

You should listen to us, because our parents and grandparents will be gone before long and they really are the last generation who feel obliged to pay for news. Pay your excellent writers and overheads through advertising revenue, if your product is good enough it'll attract millions of readers and you can name your price to advertisers. Go ahead with the subscription and your reader hits will avalanche. Maybe some of the old guard will stick around, but no one under 30-35 will.

Murdoch may be counting on other newspaper web sites following suit and making increasingly difficult for readers to find free news sources. If that happens, then a generation from now readers may be just as accustomed to paying for news as they are now are to getting it for free.



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