The iron determination of the Murdoch clan to make the punters pay to view online content has now borne fruit: the Times and Sunday Times have disappeared behind a paywall. I’ve wondered in the past whether Rupe and his troops can make the numbers add up, and although they’ve managed this task with Sky and the various sports rights that have been acquired, things might be different with newspapers.
Previously, I noted that pioneer of online journalism Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post aggregates content, but also produces original journalism and hosts several blogs, wasn’t convinced by Rupe’s arguments. Her speech, delivered last December, and titled “Journalism 2009: Desperate Metaphors, Desperate Revenue Models, And The Desperate Need For Better Journalism”, lays out clearly why she believes that the Murdochs don’t get it.
And in today’s Guardian, Clay Shirky, an internet guru who hates being called an internet guru, tells why he, too, doesn’t think that putting up a paywall will work. His verdict is as straightforward as it is damning: “I think it will underperform. On a purely financial calculation, I don't think the numbers add up”. Moreover, he points out that what Murdoch is doing with the Times and ST is locking the wider public out of his papers’ conversations – deliberately throttling their reach.
The reach of the Times and ST was already in sharp decline following the imposition of registration (part of the move towards a paywall). Adding the further imposition of payment when there are so many more news sources out there will merely compound that decline.