It looks like The Times is paying a price for Rupert’s decision to take all online content behind a paywall. Figures sneakily (although I like their style!) produced by the Guardian via Hitwise show that they’ve lost 90% of their traffic since they started asking for payment for their work.
I’m guessing News International was expecting a big drop-off but who knows whether they thought it would be so dramatic? I’d caution against rushing to blow raspberries at the mean spirited anti-sharing capitalists. It’s true that the web is such a beautiful thing because of the ability to find exactly the right information for whatever you are looking for and the paywall idea puts a Murdoch-shaped spanner into those free-moving cogs.
BUT we are still in a new frontier and ways of working are still developing. The one thing that is certain is that mainstream media brands have a massive part to play in the information economy and it has to be economical to produce said information.
The mass media has been terrible at innovating in the past twenty years or so. The only competition has been price-cutting, funded by cost-cutting, which means gaps appear in the ability to produce quality information. It’s covered up by using more agency copy, more aggressive headlines, deals with celebrities etc. but people spot declining standards. Less people consume mainstream media and those that still do under value it or trust it less than they have in days gone by.
The paywall is experimental and it can only work by understanding deeply what your audience wants and giving them content that makes them part with cash, content that isn’t just what they can get elsewhere but with a better headline or more sophisticated SEO. They have to build loyalty, investigate more, tell us things we don’t know and actually want to know and create more interactivity within their stories.
TheTimesOnline has got some real innovators working away in there; Tom Whitwell, Joanna Geary, Lucia Adams et al. There’s lots of other innovation going on elsewhere – the Guardian releasing its API and experimenting with micro-news, and it’s nice to see Ilicco Elia of Reuters recognised for some fascinating work he’s doing to deliver news in different formats to niche audiences.
I’m not saying that the paywall is the answer but I’m excited to see someone trying.