Paywall will prove a disaster for The Times

My resignation from The Times set out in the post below has understandably caused further debate in the blogsphere as to the rights and wrongs of their decision to erect a paywall around its content and charge admission to its members-only club. When I resigned I deliberately didn’t want to mix up my own view on The Times’ action with a genuine sense of gratitude for their having hosted the blog for three years. However, that point now having been made I’d add that I think the decision will prove to be a disaster. There are so many innovative ways of making cash online and the decision to plump for an across-the-board blanket subscription over the whole of their content makes them look like a big lumbering giant, unable to cope with the diversification of the media brought about by online content, blogging, Facebook, Twitter – the list is endless. Canute-like in their determination to stop the tide of free content and using a top down strategy which makes even the Post Office look dynamic.

A more sophisticated approach might have been to keep the existing platform and content free but to start charging for different types of premium versions such as iPhone or iPad apps or more in depth and specialist content. This would have maintained the all-important traffic whilst at the same time allowing tem to charge those who had no problem with paying. This looks like the direction in which The Guardian is headed and seems eminently sensible, particularly as it also keeps flexibility at each stage of the new experiment.

Speaking of which, perhaps an even bigger casualty of The Times’ decision than the newspaper as a whole may well be the Law Section which until recently has been in my view the number one place for legal news in the country. However, The Guardian has recently launched a Law Section which very clearly lays siege to that position. With The Times disappearing from public view and the inevitable reduction in traffic which will follow it leaves an obvious gap in the market and makes The Guardian’s timing seem particularly opportune. I’d be fascinated to hear other people’s views and to continue this debate in the comments section below.

In the meantime, a big thank you to all those journalists, bloggers and other writers around the world who have written posts and tweets about my decision. Here are links to around seventy of them: Vanity FairThe Guardian, New Statesman, Media Week, Huffington PostThe Bar CouncilThe New Lawyer, American Bar Association Journal, Michael Wolff @ NewserEstates GazetteProf George BrockCharon QCGeeklawyer, PhanceeBusiness InsiderInfamy or PraiseEditors Weblogle monde, LawDentFamily Lore, Android’s Reminiscences, Delia Venables, f/k/a, Jobsworth, Binary Law, slaw, Broadcast Journalism, Tech Dirt, The WallThe WallJournalism.co.ukPragmatist, Criminal Law and Evidence, Memex 1.1Practice Source, Felix Salmon at Reuters, Media Gazer, White Rabbit, Trainee Lawyer, Exile On Moan Street, Malice in Wonderland, The Latest on PPC, Media BistroLegal NewsMartin Stabe, CyclothymicMusings, You Get The Info, Cyber CulturalistAlexandre Gamela, Whyte Wolf, It’s Digital PR News, J Source, A-Z of Global Warming Of Interest to Lawyers Medie Varlden (Swedish)De Jaap (Dutch)Ger Timmer (Dutch)Media Facts (Dutch), I Love Media (Dutch), Media Ned (Dutch), ABC Spain (Spanish)233 Grados (Spanish)Lola Como Mola (Spanish), The Protocol Droid (Spanish)LaInformacion (Spanish)FayerWayer (Spanish), Direnet (Spanish), Golpedegato (Spanish)elarea.com (Spanish), El Otro Juan (Spanish)Dziennik Internautów (Polish), Alternative Blog (Japanese) and finally tweets.

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May 30, 2010 · Tim Kevan · 13 Comments
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13 Responses

  1. Michael Scutt - May 30, 2010

    Tim

    I think The Times has made a mistake, as you suggest. The solution you put forward is the model the Financial Times uses and that seems to work. I don’t think Murdoch with his reported dislike of the internet has thought the move through.

    Kind regards

    Michael Scutt

  2. C&E - May 30, 2010

    Its a complete cock up!
    I was trying to access the recently published Uni league tables, but I had to sign up. Then it decided that I could only see a preview of the tables and not actually what I wanted to see!

    If the Guardian can develop their law pages, I would be more than happy to completely boycott the times!

  3. Kris - May 30, 2010

    The Times seems to have just gifted their student readership (at the very least) of their law section to the Guardian.

    I will miss Gary Slapper and David Pannick – but not enough to pay for them.

  4. Terry Heaton - May 31, 2010

    It’s not just the traffic loss; it’s the loss of influence that will plague the wallites even more.

  5. Pragmatist - June 1, 2010

    Thanks for the mention, Tim. Agree the core newspaper content should be free, in order to attract traffic they can then monetise with more in depth offerings – maybe via deals with magazines, journals etc. But what would I know?

    FYI, my take on a talk by Alan Rusbridger on the Guardian’s plans, and Ryan Sholin’s views on how newspapers should engage with the social media:
    http://sdj-pragmatist.blogspot.com/2010/04/will-social-media-save-old-media.html

  6. Sean - June 1, 2010

    “The Times seems to have just gifted their student readership (at the very least) of their law section to the Guardian.”

    The Times is still available for students freely via LexisNexis so for current law undergrads it isn’t too much of an issue.

    I have to agree it’s a disasterous move though – there will always be a free press on the internet.

  7. links for 2010-06-01 « Onlinejournalismtest's Blog - June 1, 2010

    […] Paywall will prove a disaster for The Times | BabyBarista perhaps an even bigger casualty of The Times’ decision than the newspaper as a whole may well be the Law Section which until recently has been in my view the number one place for legal news in the country. However, The Guardian has recently launched a Law Section which very clearly lays siege to that position. With The Times disappearing from public view and the inevitable reduction in traffic which will follow it leaves an obvious gap in the market and makes The Guardian’s timing seem particularly opportune. (tags: guardian paywalls times law) […]

  8. John H - June 1, 2010

    I’m a long-time Guardian reader, so naturally I prefer the Guardian’s approach to this question. But even then I have misgivings: the Guardian is losing money hand over fist, and I’m not sure iPad apps will fill much of the hole they’re digging.

    So newspapers seem to have a choice: revenue or relevance. Which makes me wonder whether they have much of a future at all. I hope I’m wrong, but no-one has convincingly demonstrated otherwise as yet…

  9. john b - June 2, 2010

    @tim, completely understand your decision, and completely agree re the Times.
    @john h, I think you’re being overly pessimistic about the Guardian’s model. This Wired piece has some interesting number-crunching.

  10. BabyBarista Blog Bids Farewell to The Times Over Pay Wall | mediabistrowebnewser | Online Marketing Connect - June 2, 2010

    […] in a later post on BabyBarista, Kevan went on to shred the decision to implement a pay wall, […]

  11. Kagem Tibaijuka - June 3, 2010

    I think if anything the Times paywall debate has shown that even in the digital age, many media companies and commentators do not want to innovate in this space.

    Keeping all information free online is not innovating.

    The question that the managers at the Times have asked is, ”how are we going to pay for our journalists to eat and be fed?” Relying solely on advertising will not work, and it is not the way forward to see media companies offering up their brands for advertising. It is not going to keep all the brands afloat.

    What is so wrong with paying for something that has been made professionally?

    Kagem Tibaijuka
    Founder of vox-popPRcareers

  12. Georgina Harris - June 9, 2010

    Those of us in the world of free-to-use websites think you made the right decision.

    So does everyone who appreciates good writing and straight talk, too.

    Can we review your book on the LawDonut? With our production schedules the way they are, if I start now the piece will be out just in time for Christmas shopping…

  13. The Times paywall: doomed by a massive ecomms fail « googledigook - June 14, 2010

    […] out some way to make money from the Internet. So while many regard The Times paywall as a ‘Canute-like‘ step, I’m happy to see it as a courageous experiment and hope it’s a step […]