FT vs Guardian: The Ongoing Paywall Debate

The Financial Times has been held up as something of a pioneering newspaper, but its latest digital expansion comes at cost to the print.

The paper has done a good job of adapting to the digital world, attracting large numbers of paying subscribers to both print and online. It’s usually the default pro-paywall example; although with the note its content has the advantage of being unique enough to attract paying readers.

FT guardian paywall

Long standing editor Lionel Barber announced on Monday a renewed focus on digital, and is hiring 10 new employees specifically under a digital remit. The knock-on effect is 35 current FT staffers face the chop – or more accurately being offered a ‘buyout’ according to Paid Content. 35 of these buyouts will save the paper £1.6m this year, according to an internal email sent yesterday.

Barber says “The intention is to reduce the cost of producing the newspaper and give us the flexibility to invest more online”. There’s also a mandate to focus more on “priority stories”, an streamlined international presence and new products in the coming year.

Interestingly, Barber sees less competition with rival papers and more with social media channels, “Our common cause is to secure the FT’s future in an increasingly competitive market, where old titles are being routinely disrupted by new entrants such as Google and LinkedIn and Twitter.”

On the surface it may look like hard number crunching (+10 -35 isn’t tough maths), but these are the hard calls publishers and editors are being forced to make in the digital world. Ultimately is does mean we’re looking at smaller editorial teams, but it also means more focused teams delivering the content readers want to consume and pay for. What Mr Spock might have called ‘the needs of the many’. Although there’s no way around the fact it’s tough times for the 35 potential buyouters.

At the sometime Barber was tapping out his email, Andrew Miller, CEO of Guardian Media, has reaffirmed the group’s commitment to “open journalism” and shunning of the paywall model. Miller is one who has argued the FT’s paywall works because subscribers were always willing to pay for the premium business and financial content – something his paper can’t match. In an article with The Economist last week, he wrote:

“The overriding business task is to monetize the online audience…when we talk of ‘audience’ we still mean our readers…newspapers have always used a blend of different funding mechanisms to extract revenues for their ‘product’. That’s why I am unconvinced by those who say that the only model that works is to build paywalls. This is not an area where one size fits all.

“In some news organisations where growth in readership may not be so important and in particular where there is a strong existing print subscriber base to build on, a pure paywall may make excellent business sense. The Economist and perhaps the Times spring to mind here. It also makes sense in other publications which feature business-critical information – for example, the Financial Times and, in the Australian context, the AFR.”

In short, the FT et al can afford to monetise content and focus on digital because they don’t have to worry about growing their readership – but The Guardian does.

So where The Guardian is competing with paid-for titles and grabbing readers wherever it can, even in Australia now, the FT is more concerned about monitising content and developing a profitable digital business. The idea of “open journalism” is a noble one, and one I hope works out in the long term. But for now, it seems making the tough calls is the better option for newspapers looking for a firm foothold in digital.

Paid Content: All you need is love…and tablets…and smartphones

Paid-for news content is having a tough old time in the Internet age. Us readers are so used to getting news for free that even the lowest cost news and online content is shunned in favour of free site. According to two separate reports, from Forrester and the Columbia/Indiana University, there are two lifelines for news content – the rise of tablets and smartphones and…umm…’love’.

Easy one first. Analyst house Forrester has released its predictions for potential grown in the paid content market in the coming years. It’s being driven by the increasing number of smartphones and tablets out there. The firm predicts the market for music, games, film, TV and news content will grow by 65% by 2017 – bringing it to a total of £8bn. ‘Digital news’ specifically is expected to shoot up to almost £250m, a 77% increase in spending from us consumers.

Which all sounds like good news for those news outlets with paywalls erected around their content – the FT, The Times and New York Times and so on.

Forrester states the change will be driven by the appeal of new services available on cutting edge tech, although how this relates to news specifically isn’t clear. Forrester’s own Darika Ahrens says “Demand among European Internet users willing to pay for digital content grew between 2009 and 2010, but the number of online buyers didn’t due to a lack of compelling service offerings.”

So we need some more compelling services. And also a bit of ‘love’. That’s according to a study from  Columbia/Indiana University titled ‘Paying for What Was Free: Lessons from the New York Times Paywall’.

As the name suggests, the study examined New York Times reader habits and motivations for paying for the paper’s content post-paywall. The 954 participants were shown two “justification paragraphs” that explained why the New York Times had opted for a paywall model.

One focused on the publisher making a profile from editorial, while the other emphasised the charge was needed to avoid the paper going out of business. The respondents were then asked to rate “how the information changed their support for the paywall and their willingness to pay”. By far and away, they were more likely to pay when facing up to the prospect of the paper closing.  Sadly, according to Paid Content, guilt is “not a guaranteed way to get readers to pay”, as most readers chose not to pay at all, regardless of the statement they read.

There are a few bright spots in the paid content space, but it’s a long slog toward a healthy, stable and profitable market. Love and smartphones are not enough.

The Telegraph vs The Guardian: Who has more readers?

Last week the latest National Readership Survey (NRS) figures were released, detailing how many of us Joe publics pick up and read a newspaper or news online every day. Despite being one set of figures, different media outlets managed to report the news with different angles. And quite self-serving angles at that.

telegraph vs guardian

Take for example The Telegraph’s opening line“More people read The Telegraph online and in print every day than any other quality daily, new independent figures reveal”.

Seems quite straightforward, survey shows more people read The Telegraph than any other paper – if you discount non-quality types like The Sun. The paper backs this up by stating “The first study to combine print and web readership has found that 1,946,000 people read The Telegraph every day, compared to 1,346,000 for The Times”.

All sounds good, until you read The Guardian’s piece on the same survey results. “The Guardian had the biggest combined print and online monthly readership of British national quality titles in the year to the end of March, according to the latest National Readership Survey (NRS) figures.”

But that sounds like The Guardian is saying it is the most read quality paper. It’s report has figures too, “The Guardian and guardian.co.uk’s readerships combined gave an average monthly readership of 8.95 million in the 12-month period, ahead of the Daily Telegraph/Telegraph.co.uk audience of 8.82 million”.

Ah, there is it you see. The Telegraph is measuring on the largest number of daily readers, whereas The Guardian has gone for average monthly readers over a year. So it’s sort of comparing one day to one year…very sort of. I’m more inclined towards The Guardian’s stats, as measuring over the last year seems like a better indication of readership levels. In reality there’s no way to be certain which of these papers’ is the more widely read. The only thing we’re sure of it The Indy is well and truly in fourth place, lagging behind even The Times despite its full fat paywall.


The Internet Map (does what it says on the tin)

Another piece of data visualisation brilliance has appeared on The Guardian’s Data blog this week; The Internet Map.

Internet Map 1

The map pretty much does what it says on the tin. It’s a map of the world’s websites, with different sized and coloured circles representing the largest sites in terms of traffic and ‘levels of activity’. The bigger the circle, the more traffic and attention the site is getting.

The different colours represent different countries, the UK is a rather pleasing light blue. Circles are also positioned in relation to other sites that are visited by the same users. For example, you’ll notice visitors to telegraph.co.uk also hit up guardian.co.uk, independent.co.uk and timesonline.co.uk quite often.

Internet Map 2

It’s also interesting to see which sites are close to each other. Sites like Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook are surrounded by many others, as one might expect. This gives some good insight into a media outlet’s links to social media – look how close The Next Web appears to Twitter’s huge sphere.

Internet Map 3

The map has been developed by Ruslan Enikeev, a data-visualisation designer. The appeal of the map is so great Ruslan is appealing for donations to cover the cost of hosting it. You can donate, if you’d like to, direct from the site.


Telegraph vs Guardian on Yahoo!’s Mayer

So Yahoo! has a new chief executive. Or another new chief executive if you prefer. The fifth inside a year is Marissa Mayer who, you may have heard, an ex-Google employee – as of Monday.

Can Mayer breathe new life into Yahoo!’s increasingly bleak future? To be blunt with you, I have no idea. I guess if there is a person in the world who could do it, it would be one of the three people who invented Google AdWords (yeah, she’s one of those). On the other hand, you can’t polish a…failing dot.com darling.

Forget the arguments on Yahoo!’s future for a second, because there’s an interesting point on media coverage of this appointment to end all appointments. After an initial storm of news stories late Monday / early Tuesday, a few ‘think pieces’ have been appeared with the more considered viewpoints of tech writers.

Specifically, The Guardian and The Telegraph took opposing views on the appointment and Mayer’s future.

The Guardian was full of chipper enthusiasm, calling Mayer “a Savvy boss” who is “one of the few executives able to turn Yahoo around”. Much of the write up focus on her past, with quotes from former colleagues and details of her working practises. At Google she went to 70 meetings a week, don’t you know. Even Schmidty waxed lyrical about her – to Glamour magazine of all things.

Comparatively, The Telegraph took a more forward looking view – and quite a dim one at that. Digital Media Editor Emma Barnett reports Mayer has “has taken on mission impossible” and deduces her “relatively easy” choice to depart Google was due to being pushed out of the power circle that, The Guardian would have you believe, loved her to pieces. The article also chronicles Yahoo!’s poor record on pretty much every business decision since 1999, concluding “Mayer, despite her huge following in Silicon Valley and brilliant reputation in consumer technology, has just gleefully accepted one of the Internet’s most high profile poisoned chalices.”

The poisoned chalice lined is also replicated in a second Telegraph article by media, telecoms and tech editor by Katherine Rushton. A strange term to use, given that even a poisoned chalice is meant to at least appear to be good at first – not something many would call Yahoo! right now.

So the media is uncertain of her future, and Yahoo!’s for that matter. If nothing else, in a few months we can all discuss [the brilliant job she has done turning the company around / who on earth is brave enough to be chief exec number 6] – delete as appropriate.