Rupert Murdoch’s dropped his other shoe.
After months of ranting about how the internet’s been stealing his lunch, come June his Times and Sunday Times newspapers will be the first of News Corp’s big print engines (other than the Wall Street Journal) to closet their Web products behind a paywall. The price of one day’s admission will reportedly be the cover price of a weekday print edition; a week’s access will be 2 pounds ($2.98).
News International CEO Rebekah Brooks said Murdoch’s other UK newspapers — The Sun and News of the World — would also charge readers, and Murdoch’s promised the same for his American newspapers (including the New York Post), although no specifics have been announced.
I suppose we can wait until June to see how this plays out across the pond, but meanwhile we’ve got lots of commentary to consider.
We’ll start with Brooks’ Times announcement, in which she said:
At a defining moment for journalism, this is a crucial step towards making the business of news an economically exciting proposition. We are proud of our journalism and unashamed to say that we believe it has value.
The most incendiary reaction so far is from hyperlocal internet sage Jeff Jarvis, who savaged Murdoch in his Guaradian column.
Jarvis, who used to work for Murdoch at TV Guide, says, “I respected his balls. It is a pity to see them gone.”
Jarvis sizzles with disappointment — anger — over what’s about to happen at News Corp:
Rupert Murdoch has declared surrender. The future defeated him.
By building his paywall around Times Newspapers, he has said that he has no new ideas to build advertising. He has no new ideas to build deeper and more valuable relationships with readers and will send them away if they do not pay. Even he has no new ideas to find the efficiencies the internet can bring in content creation, marketing, and delivery.
Instead, Murdoch will milk his cash cow a pound at a time, leaving his children with a dry, dead beast, the remains of his once proud if not great newspaper empire.
But isn’t there at least a possibility that people will pay? After all, most people (admittedly fewer every day) do pay for a print product? Says Jarvis:
Just because people used to pay in print they should pay now — when the half-life of a scoop’s value is a click, when good-enough news that’s free is also a click away, when the new newsstand of Google and Twitter demands that you stay in the open, searchable and linkable?
This argument I hear about paywalls comes from emotional entitlement (readers “should” pay – when did you ever see a business plan built on the verb “should”?), not hard economics.
Support for Murdoch’s plan appears in today Sun, in a column by BBC broadcaster John Humphrys in which Humphrys declares:
Good journalism has to be paid for, just as we have to pay for the plumber who fixes a leak, or it will not survive.
And let’s be clear: We have the best papers in the world. Full stop.
I want to keep it that way…
The cornerstone of democracy is a well-informed public engaged in passionate debate.
Thomas Jefferson, the author of America’s Declaration of Independence, said: “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.”
That was right two centuries ago and it’s right today.
And we must not put the papers at risk by thinking we do not have to pay for them.
Go to the Guardian site to read the rest of Jarvis’ column, along with some of the 179 comments posted as of noon on Sunday. For more from Jarvis, go to his Buzz Machine blog.
Click here for a view supporting Murdoch’s approach, by former Australian IT editor Ian Grayson who writes: “The likes of Jarvis could not be more wrong.”
See how one of Murdoch’s smaller newspapers — the weekly Brooklyn Paper (video) — is approaching the possibility of paywall erection.
And click for a Patrick Blower “live draw” cartoon.