Times paywall is a “foolish experiment” that won’t last, says Wikipedia founder

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, described The Times paywall as a “foolish experiment” that “would not last” and predicted that Rupert Murdoch would be forced to give up on the idea.

Wales was speaking during an interview at Brand Republic’s Hammersmith offices this afternoon – where he was talking about the launch of the London office of Wikia, the commercial venture from Wikipedia’s Wales that is home to the likes of Lostpedia, and the appointment of Richard Yu most recently of IGA Worldwide as European sales director of Wikia.

“I think it’s not going to last, I think they will give up,” Wales said who added that while he could see paywalls continuing to work for the Wall Street Journal and FT.com he saw no future for it in the cases of commodity news sites such as The Times.

He said as an opinion former and influencer he would think twice about writing for the paper if what he said could not be shared via social media.

“I would rather write [an opinion piece] where it is going to be read,” he said. He said putting opinion pieces behind paywalls made no sense. The Times has already lost bloggers since it erected its paywall.

He gave a recent example of a question he asked Lord Browne, the former BP CEO, at an event. He asked how he would have handled the gulf oil spill differently. Although Browne would not be drawn, the question Wales asked was reported by The Times.

When Wales tweeted it people responded that they could not read story and quickly stopped sharing.

“The Times had made itself irrelevant. It could not be tweeted and it could not be picked up by the blogs.

“No one is talking about it [The Times], I don’t think it will work,” he said.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again – The Times paywall is anti social media. Its paywall just, as Wales says, removes it from the paper from the conversation. And no one is talking about it. Shame.

However, although it is still very early, Wales said he saw potential in the apps business where “a successful micro payment market” has emerged and points to a possible future for paid content away from the open web.

Wales said he had would have no qualms about paying for the New York Times on an Apple iPad and said he was already a fan of the paper on Amazon’s Kindle device.

He said like a lot of people who own  iPhones he thought nothing about paying a dollar or so for an app where the key to success is the one click ease of purchase as much as the content.

Read also

No one is subscribing to The Times paywall – it is “an empty world”

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  • http://www.vox-pop.co.uk Kagem Tibaijuka

    I’m disappointed Mr Wales is joining in the band wagon, instead of trying to figure out why the paywall is needed.

    At least the Times is giving it a go. Can’t knock the graft.

  • http://www.ourdogs.co.uk Adam

    On ourdogs.co.uk we have used a mixture of free material and paid for content successfully for ten years. As a niche publication we are probably in a better position than The Times but they have to give it a go.

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  • http://twitter.com/GordonMacMillan @gordonmacmillan

    @kagem, true, but there is no point swimming against the tide. I think he was being realistic about paid content and came over optimistic about the rise of the apps market (i just added a few lines about that).

  • http://www.creative-jar.com/ James Harding

    As the founder of Wikipedia et al, Mr Wales has multiple business interests. He’s not a journalist who has to rely on his news organisation surviving and newspapers have been in decline for some time.

    The free paper model, funded by advertising, has been steadily devaluing news for some time. Online, the mindset is that news content is free.

    The Times is trying to restore its premium positioning. The catalyst for this is the launch of the iPad. The Times are putting tablets such as the iPad at the centre of their publishing strategy and they’ve set expectation, right from the start that content on this platform is paid for.

    Under these circumstances, a free website would be an anomaly and would undermine the strategy.

    There is value in high quality, accurate journalism and tablets will allow publishers to regain control of their product and generate revenue from the journalism at their core.

    Publishers will need to adapt though, because consumers will expect to see richer, more dynamic content than is on offer currently.

    The Times will also need to provide in-depth features and analysis to set them apart from basic news products and justify their premium positioning.

    Yes it’s disappointing that the Times pay wall cuts off the social web.

    However, the by-product of the pay wall for FT.com is that it’s allowing the publisher to develop a deeper understanding of their users’ behaviour, without contravening their privacy. The benefit of this is improved targeting of content, news gathering resources and better product development.

    The risk is that The Times could lose its reach and therefore much of its voice in the international, online news market. However, if consumers see the value in premium news content, just as with valuable business information, then the pay wall will succeed.

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  • http://allday.cc Alastaire

    I just can’t see myself coughing up £8 per month for one news source. If I had to pay-per-source for every blog, newspaper and magazine I read, I’d be looking at a monthly bill of hundreds of pounds, mostly for pages I don’t read.

    Micropayments make sense. A penny or two per article, I’d probably consider — and many more would too, meaning articles still get linked to as a fair proportion of people will pay the penny asked to view the corresponding article.

  • http://www.vox-pop.co.uk Kagem Tibaijuka

    @gordon, thanks for adding the bit about apps because now it is time to call Jimmy out. Wikipedia is iconic and nothing short of amazing despite its short comings but it is a black swan amongst thousands of free media products dependent on consumers as being generous and donating money.

    Theo Paphitis said in a video interview on YouTube that football is a difficult industry because it needs benefactors all the time.

    Couldn’t agree more about online media.

    Time to get military on the readers and consumers and demand payment.

    The £20K salaries to pay people to find out necessary information cannot be subsidised by advertising purely. The model is broken.

    People have to pay — and I don’t think that is a wave that will kill papers and make them go free again.

    100 people who pay are always better than 1,000 freeloaders, IMO.

    Good on the Times. If it brings in £1m+ in paid subscriptions for them, that’s a success in my book, whatever that’s worth.

    SMH at the notion Mr Wales makes that mobile apps £1 economy. Nonsense. It’s not enough for a viable business.

  • http://media360blog.com/author/tomsainsbury/ Tom Sainsbury

    @Kagem, completely agree about them giving it a go. The fact is that the free model isn’t working and the investors will only keep on throwing money into the pot for a certain amount of time, if they don’t get their returns then the money will dry up, so will the free content (or at least the quality free content) and people will have to pay for news again. I’m not convinced the Times has got their pay model right yet though: http://media360blog.com/2010/07/14/to-be-free-or-not-to-be-free-that-is-the-question/

  • http://twitter.com/GordonMacMillan @gordonmacmillan

    I hear what you say James, but I don’t think The Times can “restore its premium positioning” when what it comprises mostly of is a commodity: ie its news.

    @Kagem I agree people have to pay, but as i look at its frontpage this morning and these headlines:

    1. Bank warns of slowdown in UK recovery,
    2. With the Marines on sniper alley (Afghan)
    3. Downturn risks cancer targets
    4. Calderon signals retreat in Mexico war on drugs
    5. 7 Ways to wear a cape.

    There is nothing above the fold that i can not get elsewhere. What it has front and centre on its website is commodity news. I don’t need to pay for that.

    What i see when i look at that is a failure on the part of News International to sell the pay proposition to me. If its website has lots of great and different content on it then push that higher. Sell that; don’t trudge on shouting about your news when selling news is largely (unless you are WSJ or FT.com) a dead loss.

  • Christian

    One of the Times’ biggest problems is also the poor standard of it’s content. As everyone has said, if it were worth paying for – people would. The FT’s journalism is of a far higher standard than the Times.

  • http://www.vox-pop.co.uk Kagem Tibaijuka

    @Tom, definitely agree, the free model is broken just like the advertising dependent model is broken.

    There will be a shift and consumers will have to pay.

    @gordon, I think the Times need to shift their marketing and get absolutely aggressive Mafia style in how they promote this work.

    Instead of saying that people should pay for news, they should make The Times feel like a members only club. I think this would help to get a lot of the Times readers who read it online mostly back on there.

    I like the Times business section and that is it. It’s so informative, packed with information on entrepreneurs that you cannot find in Guardian, Torygraph etc. WSJ and FT are good examples you mentioned gordon.

    All in all, paid content is going to be a reality. Media websites are not charities, they are businesses and must be run as such.

  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    I’m not sure why Jimmy Wales’ opinion is even relevant. He launched Bomis.com — it failed. He launched OpenServing.com — it failed. He launched Search Wikia — it failed. And he’s sponged $14 million of investors’ money into Wikia.com, and it’s only posted one tiny calendar quarter of profitability, after years and years of sponging the investors. I mean, if Jimmy Wales says something, shouldn’t we essentially believe the opposite? What a joker.

    By the way, I’m sure Jimbo’s going to flip when he sees, “Wikia, the commercial arm of Wikipedia”. He’ll adamantly deny that’s the case, but it’s pretty much right on the money:



  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    Is my comment awaiting moderation? That’s what it shows on my computer.

    If you’re truly a journalist, you will look further into how much of a scam artist Jimmy Wales is. You were not so far off the mark to call Wikia the “commercial arm” of Wikipedia. At one time, the board of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation that runs Wikipedia was 60% composed of Wikia, Inc. employees. Last January, the Wikimedia Foundation issued a wired office space rental deal to Wikia, Inc., even though they had not presented the lowest, or even an average, bid. Jimmy appointed a Wikia employee to the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee, and when it was discovered that employee had grossly lied about his academic credentials, Jimmy proclaimed “I don’t really have a problem with it”.

  • http://twitter.com/GordonMacMillan @gordonmacmillan

    @Gregory Kohs you must be prescient — right after you posted your comment about commercial arm of Wikia the phone went. That line in the post has now been amended

  • http://www.astrology.ca Brandi Jasmine

    I use a payment program called “Kachingle” (http://www.kachingle.com/). People join for $5.00 a month, and that $5.00 is spread out through the sites they support. It’s one new idea in micro payments worth watching.

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  • http://www.creative-jar.com/ James Harding

    @gordon, that’s true and you’ve got a good point. I don’t think the Times are doing a good job of selling their paid proposition.

    I’ve registered and get the emails telling me to subscribe but these are less than convincing and don’t adequately communicate the benefits.

    Their approach is not without faults – despite paying print subs can’t access the site either.

    They definitely need to differentiate themselves and demonstrate the depth of their content to prove the value.

    The FT at least allows users to read some articles before signing up as a teaser.

    These models are still evolving but it would be interesting to get to a point where micropayments are feasible and you could pay to follow a specific story – the more interest gained by followers, the more news gathering resources are committed maybe? That would be democratic.

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  • http://www.sejwritingservices.co.uk Julie // Copywriting London

    I do think it’s a rather silly move to be honest. With so much content out there, newspapers must have a dwindling share as it is.

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    I follow your articles. I ‘ve some Say Thank gonna. Are you the author page, I write?

  • http://cleanart.com.pl/ Sprzątanie

    Amazing post, very educational. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not notice this. You must keep on your posting. I’m sure, you’ve a huge readers’ base already!

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  • http://www.GregoryKohs.com Gregory Kohs

    Another example of Jimmy Wales spouting off about something he doesn’t know about. I read in Variety today (four years after Jimbo’s pronouncement), “the Times has proved that there is still a market for broadsheet journalism unreliant on clickbait. Despite Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales declaring its paywall, ‘a foolish experiment’, it has moved the paper back to profit.”