Everyone likes Alan Rusbridger don’t they? (Hi Alan, love your work) The main man at the Guardian is seen by many of us helpless, stumbling foals in this turbulent time in journo land as the shining light, the thoroughbred who will guide us….alright I’ll stop it now he has a lot to say about the future of journalism and a lot of people like what he says. Well, the pantomime villain of journo land, Ol’ Rupert Murdoch, can’t be such a big fan because it is Rusbridger and others in positions of influence that are stopping this paywall business being big business and becoming the future of journalism.
Red tops get pricey
As the News of the World website stopped serving us free exclusives for us to gorge on, and put a big debit card-operated lock on the fridge door I began to ponder, as many other writers have, on all this paywall business and that poor old Rupert just hasn’t got this one quite right has he? (Don’t listen to those haters though Rupert, I think you’re a top bloke.)
I can honestly say I have never been on the News of the World website (don’t scoff, I’m telling the truth) and sadly I will never know what treats I have been missing out on now the paywall has gone up. On this occasion my missing out on something isn’t because I’m a tight git, I am just not going to pay for something when I can get it for free elsewhere. Common sense really isn’t it? Any of the hot gossip or salacious celebrity titbits can be found on other paper websites; Rupert’s other red top, The Sun, for example. Bizarrely the free site had a link to its expensive sibling the other day…something not quite right in the PR department there.
Different style, same problem
Then there is The Times, with its shiny and, to be perfectly honest, stunning new online layout, blocked by the wall. (I’m envisaging a cartoon spoof of Rupert with a hard hat on and a trowel saying “come on Alan, tell that Scott Trust lot that this building walls is fun, like Lego only you get money out of it” whilst Rusbridger smirks as he hands out free copies of G2 to passers-by) Not even Rupert Everett sat in a cafe with his laptop makes us want to sign up but then that’s because we’re not all smarmy actors who can afford to sit in a café reading Caitlin Moran interviews all day. Don’t click on that last link if you want to read it, they make you pay you know.
Now, I was and still am when I’m buying a ‘broadsheet’ a Times reader, for no other real reason than I like the Game on Mondays and the way Simon Barnes talks about sport helps justify my obsession with it. But the paywall doesn’t make me reach for my wallet, I simply go to my browser and type in ‘The Gua…’ and hey presto, different writers, same broadsheet style only with a slightly trendier feel. I generalise but you all know what I am talking about because I imagine you have all had a similar reaction to the paywalls?
Many analysts say that despite the Guardian and Daily Mail’s dominance in the online stats department Rupert (Murdoch, not Everett) will stay strong with his paywall idea, but surely this is stubbornness to a naive and moronic level? As Roy Greenslade said at City this week when asked about paywalls, ‘once you start charging and it fails there is no Plan B, you just admit defeat and go to partial payment or make it free’. If Rupert is holding out until everyone joins in then he could be waiting a while because, as the paywall seems to be failing, why should they get involved? And as long as some papers still provide free online content then paywalls will continue to fail and so we go on, round and round like a dog chasing its tail.
Rupert is right though
The funniest part in all this paywall business is that, ultimately, that is where the future of journalism lies. Once someone works out a successful way of monetizing online content that’s it, we have lift off. Why is the future online? Because it’s what we all use now, if every newspaper charged then the paywall would, I believe, be much more successful. Of course there is the small problem of Rupert’s pesky arch enemy the BBC but in my opinion newspapers offer much more than the BBC who are the facts of a story. For the comment, satire and exclusives we (well I do) tend to look to the papers. Who knows the Beeb might even get involved with the paywall… calm down Rupert I said ‘might’.
For now though the gung-ho approach adopted by News International doesn’t seem to be working for The Times, who have seen web hits plummet and the News of the World are now expected to struggle. I believe the future of journalism lies with paid online content but until the Guardian and other newspapers get on board and everything becomes all for one and one for all, Rupert might just be stood alone atop his great big paywall.
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