Murdoch to sell the Times as pay walls will not work?
Twitter was buzzing last night with the rumour that Rupert Murdoch was considering dumping The Times after tweets from media commentator Michael Wolff.
On first inspection the idea sounds incredibly far fetched if not preposterous. Here’s what was said over the course of three tweets: “Rumor making its way around London banking circles: Murdoch’s Times and Sunday Times up for sale. Stay tuned.
“Working it right now. Being characterized as ‘strong rumor among private equity’ that Times and Sunday Times could be on block.
“Would appreciate any further intell on rumor of Murdoch sale of London Times and Sunday Times. Working on it today.”
The basis of the rumour is that pay walls will not work and Murdoch and his key executives know it. This would be a major change of heart considering how Murdoch has been talking up pay walls these last few months and told us all that “the ad model is dead” and The Times in London will launch a pay wall in the Spring.
Michael Wolff clearly has some good contacts and a detailed knowledge of Murdoch and his business having written the biography ‘The Man Who Owns the News’.
But Murdoch also loves print and The Times has been one of the print jewels in his business.
This rumour comes a day after News International made fresh appointments at The Times to push through its pay wall plan. A pay wall at The Times (sale or no sale) is going to happen and there doesn’t seem much doubt about it. While that does not rule out there be any truth that banks have been approach to lead a sale I would be blown away if it happened.
That said selling The Times while it still has a readership of more than half a million would be a radical and brave move and that would clearly describe aspects of Murdoch’s character that have made him such a success. He probably knows that this time next year the paper’s circulation will have fallen. Maybe it will dip below 500,000 and his plan is to get out while he can.
If he is getting out of course you have to wonder about the huge new printing site in Hertfordshire near Waltham Cross just on the edge of the M25. I drove past it at Christmas and it is huge — a 23 acre site that at full capacity can print one million newspapers an hour.
Having that plant, of courser, doesn’t rule out a sale of The Times. He could well keep the plant and still sell the papers, but his ethos and his actions as a media mogul have been so long invested in the world of print and they still seem to be.
Then you have the question who would buy the papers? Who has the money? A Russian. Would Alexander Lebedev be interested? I mean why bother with buying the failing Independent if you could have The Times.