Times to charge for online content from next spring

Times Online is to introduce pay walls as early as Q1 2010, despite Rupert Murdoch’s admission last week that his plans are likely to be delayed.

Times Online

Last Thursday Murdoch admitted during a conference call that he “can’t promise” the company will hit the original target of June for bringing in the pay walls (nma.co.uk 5 November).

new media age understands News International plans to charge for access to Times Online as soon as next quarter using a similar model to sister title The Wall Street Journal, which introduced a subscription charge in 1996. An annual subscription to the online edition of The Wall Street Journal costs £72.

A source close to News International said the plan was to start the pay wall across Times Online in Q1, but that dates for The Sun and News of the World to follow suit had not yet been decided.

A News International spokeswoman said the publisher wouldn’t comment on industry speculation. However, she did say, “We’re still on target to launch before June 2010 for our broadsheets.” She refused to comment on possible timings for the introduction of pay walls for News of the World or The Sun.

Murdoch said last week, “I wouldn’t promise that we’re going to meet that [June] date,” but defended the delay, saying, “It’s a work in progress. There’s a huge amount of work going on.”

It’s understood that while The Sun’s and News of the World’s paid-for strategies haven’t been finalised, News International is gearing up to investigate the model through a new internal vacancy of director of product development for the two titles. The hire will be responsible for generating new revenues, including charging for content.

Charging for online news from Times Online will be part of a major revamp of the site in April 2010.

A source close to News International said because users will be charged to access the title, the site won’t focus on generating page impressions. It will be overhauled with a focus on a rich user experience, with content easier to find, and building greater user interaction. It’s also planning to run more live debates across the site, such as a recent discussion about the BNP.

The redesign is being led by The Times’ head of digital development Hector Arthur and assistant editor of online Tom Whitwell.

News Corp is set to introduce a separate website for The Sunday Times. Media reports have suggested this could be used as a testbed for its paid-for content strategy.

The move towards paid content follows Murdoch’s reiterations that the company can no longer offer its content for free. In August he said, “Quality journalism isn’t cheap. An industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting. The digital revolution has opened many inexpensive methods of distribution, but it hasn’t made content free. Accordingly, we intend to charge for all our news websites.”

Other publishers investigating the paid-for model include Thomson Reuters, Guardian Media Group and The National Magazine Company (nma.co.uk 8 May 2009). Some titles have made concrete plans, such as The Spectator, which has already started charging for access to its online content.

Last week Emap, publisher of B2B magazines such as Retail Week and Draper’s, said it will make all its content paid-for in the coming months (nma.co.uk 2 November 2009).

The move to charge for content comes despite consumer hostility. A new media age poll in May found just 12% of consumers would pay to read a newspaper online, while 31% would pay if it meant there was no advertising on the site.

This story first appeared on newmediaage.co.uk

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