This is my 100th post on the Questing Vole, so thank you if you have read some of the preceding 99, especially if you left a comment. They are all appreciated.
This blog is, of course, free and will remain so, unlike my cricket blog on the Times website, which yesterday slipped behind the Great Murdoch Paywall.
Most of these pooh-poohers seem to accept paying for newspapers in hard form. The Times put up a paywall around its printed newspaper back in 1785 and it still seems to be a working model at £1 a day (those who point at falling sales over the past decade ignore that circulation is double what it was 30 years ago). They also accept paying to watch movies or sport on TV through satellite subscriptions at up to £50 a month.
Why, then, is the idea of paying £2 a week for an enormous amount of online content anathema? Well, the main reasons are that it was always free before and you will be able to continue reading news elsewhere without paying.
Except I don't buy this. For a start, free does not mean good. Look at Metro or the Evening Standard: free newspapers but also unreadable tosh, fine to flick through for five minutes on the Tube but not something I would think worth spending money on.
Yes, there are lots of really good free websites out there - many not run by corporations but by individual bloggers - but they are only good because people spend a lot of time working on them. Those people should be paid. The reason I don't blog as often as I should here is because often I am too busy writing for money, but the Vole is a one-man operation. If you have a large team of people producing a hundred stories a day, you need to pay them and they would deserve paying by what they produce.
Also, I also don't think people buy newspapers for news any more. They already know what the stories are from TV, radio and the web, but they read The Times for the context and illumination that my colleagues place on the news. People may still not think it worth paying to read these people online, but they need to acknowledge that they are not coming to find news.
The thing that opponents of online charging do not understand is that, unlike private bloggers who crave readers for their personal satisfaction (I certainly do), big media organisations do not care if a large proportion of the online audience stay away. They just want enough people to read - and to pay - to cover the cost of producing a first-rate service.
In very broad terms (ignoring reductions for subscriptions and giveaways), The Times only needs to attract about a million paying readers to its website each week to double its income. It gets about 20 million unique readers a month, so it can afford to let an awful lot of them go.
And while the advertising revenue may drop at first because of the 95% reduction in potential readers, the paper's management can offer in return a better analysis of who the readers that remain are. They can monitor what stories they read and advertising can be targeted accordingly. In the long term, advertisers will see the benefit of knowing more about their audience.
That is not to say that I agree fully with The Times's online charging model. It seems strange that there is not an option to pay monthly or quarterly or annually. The constant pay-and-sign-in model will irritate many and irritation, more than cost, is a good reason to avoid things on the internet.
I would also like people to be charged by their time on the site rather than a flat fee for access. I'm not sure that our web strategists understand that people often only read small sections of a big website. Many of my cricket blog readers will only read the cricket section of our site - not even branching out into the general sport site. Some people will just visit to read a particular columnist or to get news from one sector where we have good analysts.
These people may not think that £2 a week is good value. But they might be happy to be charged 10p (or even less) a click and by retaining more readers that way, the paper would make more money. Technologically it should be very simple (look at how iTunes works). I'm sure our wonks must have looked at it, but clearly they feel that they "whole product" approach is the way they want to go.
Good luck to them, but farewell to those who used to read The Times online and won't any longer. We appreciate your support over the years. If you want some free reading matter, can I suggest the Questing Vole...?
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