Paywall problems — Murdoch unlikely to launch on time

If you needed indications that something is not quite right with the whole pay wall revolution there was plenty today: Rupert Murdoch is still “looking at alternatives” for a spring launch and Steve Brill’s Journalism Online partners are small and local. Yikes.

The Times Online is meant to launch its much written about pay wall in the Spring, it recently appointed Gurtej Sandhu to oversee the venture, yet in a conference call to reporters talking about News Corporation’s results Murdoch had this to say.

“We’re looking at various alternatives – and I don’t think we’re ready to announce yet. We’re in the midst of a lot of talks with a lot of people that are coming to a head – and you’ll hear a lot more from us in the next two months. We’ll be charging for online wherever we have publications.”

That Spring launch? How is that going to happen if you are still have talks and looking at options. I don’t see it.

I’m sure they will make it happen, but clearly they are struggling to find something that works for them.

Murdoch added to that comment about charging happening wherever News Corp has newspapers by saying that it wouldn’t surprise him if Australia was a couple of months behind the other countries.

I wonder if that means anything more than there is more resistance to pay walls in Australia or if it’s simply it takes so long to get there? Will Aussies pay? It seems only fair. They already get free sunshine.

Elsewhere on the Damascan paid content road trip The New York Times has news of Steve Brill’s Journalism Online venture.

We reported last year how it had signed up first 500 and then a 1,000 partners for its venture that would create a system (now called Press+) allowing newspapers and magazines to charge for content while it took 20%. The partners were all unnamed but the way they threw around such big numbers you had the impression that they were going to have some big hitters on board.

Five months on and we get the names of some of its partners. They include The Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era (which is like the longest name for a newspaper: ever; has to be). The paper is based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and has a circulation of 44,000.

Others on board are The Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina. It has a circulation of 61,875 and then the third partner is revealed to be a news site in Boston called the GlobalPost.

The New York Times piece goes on to say that Journalism Online claims now to have 1,300 news sites around the world signed up – but will not name them. That strikes me as really odd particularly when they have been at it for a good while now.

Somehow a small newspaper in Pennsylvania does not strike me as the place where you are going to find the vanguard of the paid content revolution.

Steve Brill and Co appear to be struggling to find big hitting partners. Murdoch is doing his own thing as is the New York Times (in 2011 – a paid content odyssey) and there are plenty of others who like The Guardian want nothing do with it just yet.

I’m still convinced that some kind of paid content can work, but at the moment it all looks to be on the ropes. Maybe not quite as much as this research and its pile of corpses in year of “media destruction” would have us believe though.

If you wanted another clue here it is. Guess where The Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era is trialling its foray into paid content and its Journalism Online effort.

It’s news right? No. It’s sports coverage maybe? No. It’s business news? No. It is starting with its obituaries. I kid you not. Love the message.

Ernest J. Schreiber, editor of the Lancaster paper’s site, told the NY Times: “We’re starting small, so if this really turns people off, we’re not playing with a huge chunk of our readership.

“We have news that no one else has, like these obituaries We would eventually take other sections of our online content into the system. I’m thinking local sports, perhaps.”

Perhaps indeed.

Previous posts

ABCe’s spell bad news for Times and good new for 

Guardian CEO says charging for specialist content an option

Pay wall experiments to produce a pile of corpses in year of “media destruction”

Pay wall day – Johnston Press begins charging for content 


  • Faustino B

    I’m so sick of waiting to see how this paywall idea works out for publishing. Do it already! I can’t take the suspense any longer!

  • Gordon Macmillan

    It feels like a whole lot of people standing on the edge waiting for someone to jump. Any month now – but not by the Spring for Murdoch considering its February already.

  • john lush

    I don’t understand the debate, they have 3 options :-

    1. Get the subscribers to pay a fixed fee of perhaps £10 upfront, which then gets eroded as they use the site
    2. Or when they get to a given spend, again perhaps £10, then you charge them.
    3. Lastly, pay by the day, let’s say a £1 a day, but you get them to buy 10 days worth up front to use as and when they like.

    Micropayments just won’t work cos the individual payments are too small to justify using paypal etc. Or rather paypal wouldn’t be interested cos they would have to use more servers etc to cover all the minimal costs.

    So why the debate, unless he’s trying to screw a deal out of Paypal or similar

  • Gordon Macmillan

    John i think you hit it: it’s Murdoch and he is probably looking for that deal.