What are we to take from the decision by Johnston Press to abandon its pay wall experiment early? I don’t think anyone can put it more clearly than Shoeless Joe Jackson, who knew something about building things, and Roy Greenslade who put it like this: the websites are terrible.
That’s almost all you need to say, but not quite. I wrote back in November when this experiment started with six titles charging around £5 a quarter that it would come down to two things: the quality of the content and an appetite to pay for content.
If you don’t get the first right then the second is unlikely to fall into place. Johnston Press also had a problem in that it said it was using the pay walls as “pilot projects”.
Pilots? That suggests hedged bets, uncertainty, and limited resources. You either go into this with gusto or you don’t go into at all. Johnston Press didn’t seem to know quite what it hoped to get out of the project.
It was never prepared to commit its big guns in titles such as The Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman (or what’s left of it), but instead turned to a number of local titles such as the Whitby Gazette and Worksop Guardian.
The readers of these titles had to be offered the chance to read great content if you were asking them to pay, but that’s not what happened.
Some of the stories on offer were simply teasers with an invitation to read more in the printed paper. What to say about that? It’s stupid. I mean really who did Johnston Press speak to about this project before embarkation?