When Murdoch says it’s happening — it’s happening. No two ways about it.
So when he says paid-for online news content is coming, then I think that means we need to sit up, take notice, and plan for the future.
And — on the face of it — this isn’t a bad future. If this takes off — and if anyone will do it, Rupert will — then it should save the industry as we know it.
So how will paid-for online newspapers work? Here’s three ideas I think need to be in place if it’s to be a success.
1. It has to be cheap.
The Independent (that newspaper we love with the website we hate), tried charging for online content a short while ago. Believe it or not, you once had to pay an entire pound to read Janet Street-Porter’s column. Now, thoughts on Janet aside (personally I’d rather dunk my face into a barrel of sick before reading her words), the concept of paying an entire quid on one single article was just insane. The newspaper, at that time, was 80p. The Sunday edition (where Janet’s column appeared) was about £1.50. So how, on balance, does that add up? Any customer that comes along knows that it doesn’t represent value for money. Not even close.
It should be 20p. Or even 10p. Crucially, if you spend enough 10p’s to make up the cost of the paper, all of your day’s reading, from there on in, should be free. Why should it be any other way? You’ve paid for the paper, you should be allowed to read it. Under the Indy’s old model, it would’ve cost you about £10 to read the opinion pieces from ONE EDITION of the newspaper. And we’re wondering why it didn’t work?
2. It should use aggressive marketing techniques.
Hey hey! It’s Free Column Friday! Or something. Let’s not just lie-down and say “right then, everything is 2op, off you go”. Let’s be inventive. Let’s have Alan Rusbridger’s five picks of the day for 50p. Let’s have five Jeremy Clarkson columns for the price of four. Let’s have a loyalty bonus: You’ve read Charlie Brooker for the past 5 weeks? Hey, guess what, Charlie loves you — here’s a sixth article for free. Hell, here’s an EXCLUSIVE article for free. Why not?
Put your online price right up there with your offline price. Advertise content with the online price tag attached. Make it seem like a bargain. Make the reader think “Hey, you know what, 20p isn’t bad. I put 20p in a charity box the other day, and thought nothing of it”.
3. It must be 1-system-fits-all.
This is by far the most important thing. Right now, it seems inevitable that Murdoch will introduce a pay-wall for The Times. Maybe the News of the World too, but that seems a bit far fetched considering the audience. So let’s assume The Times is getting the paid treatment first.
You’ll have to sign up, enter your details, key in your credit card info and activate your account. When you come to pay, you need to be signed in and wait for it to process.
That doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Well, no, but imagine doing that process for the Guardian, the Indy, the Mail, the Telegraph… you’d soon get fed up. You’d soon forget. I never comment on Guardian articles while I’m at work. Why? Is it because I’m too busy? No, of course not. It’s because I’ve forgotten my bloody password. At home it is saved, so I’m in automatically, but I can’t be bothered at work — I’d need to have an email reminder and all that rubbish.
A pay-wall would have the same effect, and then some.
Newspaper publishers need to get round the table and launch their own PayPal. It’s the only way it can work. I should be able to use the same account for every single newspaper on the planet. Or, at the very least, in the UK. But really, the planet. A PayPal for newspapers would be a revolution. It means I can keep track of what I’m reading, and spending, and not have to worry about signing in to 30 different sites.
The ease of use of the system will encourage more and more users. The fact you could read any newspaper with it would mean ‘credit’ could even become a gift: “Buy this bottle of Evian, and get 5 free articles on NewsPal!”
I think it works.