News International rethinks anti-social media paywall policy
Interesting report on Journalism UK about News International possibly rethinking its closed, anti-social media or iron curtain, approach to its paywall. The Sun had been due to follow same paywall model employed by The Times and the News of the World.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I think this is the equivalent to shooting yourself in the foot. I mean, seriously, why do it? Why have a paywall that cuts you off from the social media conversation?
I wrote last summer that the plan for the Sun paywall as it stood is a recipe for disaster and with the delays we have witnessed, earlier this year we learnt that the Sun paywall was to be delayed, this appears to be the view that is now being taken internally at News International.
I’ve said similar things about The Times. I’ve told them this in the nicest way possible: great site, great writers, but shame you are cut off from the conversation. Granted they have conversations on the site, with their community of users, but there is more to the web than that.
I’ll state again so no one gets me wrong: I think having a paywall is going to become a publishing necessity (for some). They are good things and they ensure that great journalism continues to be published and we will see more of them, but you have to shout and promote you work.
If The Times were my paywall I would up the social conversation. I would do that by having a great best of blog that shares limited amounts of content to entice people in and convince them to pay and to ensure people hear about it in the wider world of social media. I’ve said this before too (but that could be because the word blog is basically my answer for everything).
I digress, back to the Sun. Speaking last night at a City University debate Katie Vanneck-Smith, head of marketing at NI, told the audience:
“I think we all said that the models are mixed. So there are no plan at the moment, there’s no date, for when the Sun will have paid as part of its model for it’s digital website in terms of its news access,” reports Journalism.co.uk.
She was then questioned by Media Guardian editor Dan Sabbagh (an ex-Times writer) about whether this signalled a change in paywall thinking:
Vanneck-Smith, said: “We will introduce paid for content and services on the Sun in the future, I couldn’t tell you what the date is.”
What she didn’t do was confirm if this would be a paywall as we already have on News of the World although did say that “mixed models and blended models are right and the best way to pursue, I think, a very vibrant and exciting journalism future for this country”.
Does this also tell us that the News of the World paywall has not been a great success? I’m reading between the lines, obviously, but it makes sense. Why else change your strategy?
Mixed models suggest some kind of paid content mixed with the free, but ensuring that the Sun with its huge traffic will continue to benefit from strong ad revenue. It would lose that if it put up the same anti-social media paywall that surrounds the News of the World, The Times and The Sunday Times.
A total paywall would only help online rivals like the Daily Mail and it hardly needs the help as it powers forward to become one of the biggest online newspapers in the world.
That could mean, as Roy Greenslade points out, charging for things like Bingo. People apparently love Sun Bingo.
Going back to The Sun site, she spoke of the large numbers playing bingo. It struck me then that the possible change of mind about introducing a paywall might revolve around the bingo audience.
Is News Int considering making people pay for the pleasure of playing Sun bingo and other popular entertainment content while leaving the rest of the site free?
Does News Int fear a loss of revenue should it go forward with its previous plan to charge for access to the entire site?
Of course it does. The other question here is does this signal any change with The Times and its paywall? I don’t think it does. They seem very happy with how it is going. And we read last month that The Times paywall was claiming a 21% lift in brand recall and that subscribers numbers were at 79000.