There’s a fine piece (subs - appropriately enough - required) in Prospect this month, defending the Times’ decision to erect a pay wall around its website. The author is adamant that hatred for Rupert Murdock should not cloud people’s judgement on the new initiative.
It’s a commonplace that newspapers, almost universally, are now struggling to return a profit, simply because people have become so used to receiving content for free, over the internet.
Either the media must develop a model which recoups all its costs through advertising, or consumers have to pay a fair price for news, whether it is in a printed newspaper, or on the web. Otherwise quality journalism will not prove sustainable in the long term.
The Times has made its subscription model affordable, and, in the short term, a preview is available to entice potential customers. It is also rumoured that access will be bundled with other products, such as Sky television packages.
I’ve used the new site, since its introduction, and I have to say that it is very accessible. Apart from the interactive content, available only online, it feels like an online newspaper, in a way which other newspaper websites do not.
If newspapers are forced to continue cutting corners to remain profitable, or if websites become so laden with advertising that they are scarcely usable, then readers will suffer.
Any blogger will acknowledge that, while blogs can analyse, it is still main stream journalists who gather the raw material for most content which finds its way unto the internet.
If The Times can find a way to make online newspapers pay, it can only be a good thing for the media and consumers.