One of the reasons why many people like the internet is that they can get stuff for free that they usually would have to pay for. Like news.
But what if online newspapers suddenly erect ‘paywalls‘ around their content so that only subscribers can access the stories? Wouldn’t that cost these newspapers their readers?
Now, they have released their first figures. 105,000 people have subscribed to the website/ app since May. ‘The Times’ considers this a success.
“We aimed at building up a relationship with real readers,” says Tom Whitwell, assistant editor of the Times’ website. Building up a ‘community’ is the phrase he also uses for this.
A closed community = the key to success?
Doesn’t that sounds more like a forum than a news website? With the paywall-concept Tom Whitwell is satisfied when a ‘big story’ gets around a hundred comments.
“If I’ve got 13,000 comments on a piece, it might be good for me (the author), but not for the reader’s participation,” explains Whitwell.
The idea of offering news content to consumers who are willing to pay, to create some kind of ‘news elite’ Tom Whitwell considers the “best way to keep up the Times’ journalistic standards”.
With the recession not long over and the advertising revenues still going down, that concept might seem like a good idea.
Paywalls enables audience control
But can a story that has been ‘shut up’ behind a paywall ever unfold its total impact? And even more important: Does knowing your audience to the last detail really help?
Tom Whitwell is convinced that it does. “If you can tell your advertisers exactly what your audience is, ads will become more expensive.”
Right now Whitwell says that there is no extensive data-collection going on. The main way of individualising the site is by a device called ‘dashboard’ that shows the last read stories.
The fact that other British newspapers have not followed the Times’ example might indicate that their business model doesn’t suit the web.
However, if ad revenues continue to decrease, they too might look for others ways to make money with the internet. Who knows what other walls lie ahead?