Sunday, 27 June 2010

By golly, Rupert did it again

This time last year, when I was still a management consultant, I submitted a memo to the MD, in which I said that monetised online journalism was the next big thing in pricing and we had to be in the vanguard.  There were newspapers like the Financial Times and the Economist that had already charged successfully for access to their websites but they had the sort of specialised content that mass-market national newspapers like the Times, the Independent and the Daily Telegraph just did not.

Could the generalists make it work?  I was adamant that they could, swept along by the growing belief that eventually they would have to.  Then Rupert Murdoch came out and said that in 2010 his UK titles the Times and the Sunday Times would have separate websites, both behind paywalls.  The floodgates of comment opened.  My little pet project was thrust into the spotlights.  The powers that be took notice.  Barely a week went by without someone writing something, somewhere, about monetising online content.  Some were for, some were anti (especially Alan Rusbridger at the Guardian).  Either way, Rupert Murdoch had grasped the issue by the cojones and suddenly everyone was waiting eagerly to see what happened.

My colleagues and I secured a meeting with News International.  We'd been told it would be with Rebekkah Brooks.  How naive!  Of course she didn't show.  She was probably too busy plotting the downfall of the Labour Government with her Cotswold neighbours, the Camerons.  Well we found that they were already quite advanced with their plans, they knew where they were going and said thanks, but no thanks.

Since then I started to swing towards the side of the doubters.  Paid media sites couldn't work, surely?  Would I pay for them?  Most probably not, as long as there were other sites where you could get news and opinion for free.  I did pen an article for The Pricing Advisor in December 2009, saying that it was inevitable and it could work, but secretly I no longer believed.

Rupert held to his promise and the old Times Online has morphed into and - both behind paywalls.  I have been trialling the new websites for the past couple of weeks and, it must be said, I'm impressed.  They have clearly spent a long time thinking about the design and it is beautiful in its simplicity.  They have managed to cram a huge amount of headlines and tabs in to one homepage yet still make it feel bright, open and accessible.  It even has the air of the newspaper itself, so that you feel like you are buying into a newspaper, not a website.

There will still be many critics saying Murdoch's courageous step is bound to fail, as readers shun his paid content for the free material available elsewhere.  Those critics might be correct, if only because I'm not sure of how many people have accessed the free trial version of and  If you haven't used it, you won't know quite how stunningly good it is.  Will I take out a subscription when my trial expires?

Probably.  Rupert's won me over again.

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