Another one behind the wall

Another one behind the wall

Rupert Murdoch knows something that very few other people seem to do: How to make money by charging people for online news content.

Either that, or he is sticking to his guns when it comes to not giving away news for free. Even if it costs him money.

Thursday Murdoch’s News Of The World(NOTW) announced that it would be the third News Corp. title to start charging for access to online content.

NOTW’s paywall will go up next month. Users will then be asked to pay £1 for a daily pass, and £1.99 for four weeks’ worth of access. (No doubt the recent cricket spot-fixing scandal, first exposed by NOTW, will help in attracting readers.)

There is no dispute that Murdoch’s previous attempts at paywalling, in July, led to precipitous drops in Internet traffic for The Times and Sunday Times websites. While the company hasn’t publicized figures, most online traffic comparison services indicate a nosedive.

Unofficial reports in July indicated that the two sites had managed to convince only around 30,000 users, on both Web and iPad, to pay for access—a fraction of the 750,000 free users the sites once had.

Also, with so much news being linked and shared through social networks, these paywalls have ensured that Times stories rarely appear in discussions or conversations on Twitter or Facebook. For all practical purposes, it is as if these sites have fallen off the face of the Web.

Yet, instead of making Murdoch hesitate, he is now walling up yet another site. A shrewd businessman? Or a defiant strategist with cash?

Murdoch’s persistence poses a difficult choice for media houses. Putting up a paywall is much more complicated than just adding a payment gateway and a login page.

First, sites and apps need to be upgraded to be alluring enough for the picky paying consumer. This needs investment. (NOTW has already announced upgrades and redesigns.) Second, most existing online advertising revenue will vanish with the traffic. There is also the issue of convincing journalists to write for a small, private audience while their free-to-Web colleagues are more widely read and celebrated.

It might seem easier to just let the status quo be. But that leads to a scarier prospect. Who dares bet against Rupert Murdoch’s wiles?

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