Newspapers watch Times' pay model

A man is seen looking at The Times newspaper's new website on a computer in central London.

Rupert Murdoch already charges for an online subscription to his most prestigious American newspaper, the Wall Street Journal. A lot of those subscribers, though, use the information in the Journal professionally to do their jobs in business or finance. Murdoch's about to launch an online pay wall for one of his general interest newspapers, the Times of London. Starting sometime in the next couple of days, readers are going to have to pay $1.50 or three bucks a week to read the Times online -- an experiment American papers will be watching oh, so very closely.


By Jeremy Hobson

From his perch in the Times' busy London newsroom, Assistant Editor Tom Whitwell says the new pay model will be simple -- and there will be no way around it.

"If you want to read Times journalism, you pay. If you don't, you don't," said Whitwell.

And he says the paper is prepared to lose readers who don't want to pay.

"We are assuming there's going to be an enormous drop-off in raw traffic to the site, because at the moment, we get 20 million-odd unique visitors," said Whitwell. "We are hoping to develop a much more dedicated readership that's clearly going to be much, much smaller than that."

The Times has tried pay walls before, but the company's new calculation is that a small base of loyal subscribers is more valuable to advertisers than a broader group of readers who only pop in for a moment.

Porter Bibb heads up MediaTech Capital Partners. He says if the price is right and the content is good, people will pay for news -- just like they pay for songs on iTunes or books on Amazon.

"If you're a regional newspaper, if you're the Minneapolis Star or the Chicago Sun-Times, and you give more information than you can get anywhere else about local news, or local sports or local politics, people will have to pay for it, because where else are you going to get that information?" said Bibb.

The pay wall model will get another test come January, when the New York Times starts charging frequent users for access. But lest you think Rupert Murdoch is betting the farm on his ironclad pay wall model, remember he's only doing it with the Times of London right now. Many of his other newspapers -- from the New York Post to the Fiji Times -- will continue to offer free content online.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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