What The Times’ new paywall update means for PRs

It’s emerged this week The Times newspaper is backtracking ever so slightly on its paywall policy. It really is ‘ever so slightly’, two sentences at a time.

the times paywall

When The Times’ paywall shot up in May 2010 it was unique. Unique because it completely closed off all access to the site’s editorial content for non-subscribers. This contrasted harshly with other paywalls that allowed readers to view a select number of articles or at least read the headline and first paragraph, notably the FT but other trade and specialist titles too.

Now the News Corp owned paper has backtracked. Google, Bing and any other search engine’s crawlers will be able to grab the first two sentences the paper’s editorial articles and index them alongside freely accessible sites. The update should happen next month, says The Telegraph.

Paid Content rightly suggests this is an effort to market the paper to new customers, having reached over 130,000 paying subscribers since the paywall went up. Ignoring the “drive by traffic” has been at the heart of The Times’ strategy, and it’s nice to know the paper’s digital team are willing to reassess their position a few years in.

But what does this mean for PRs?

When the paywall first went up I had a few questions over the value of the paper for PRs, effectively weighing the worth of reaching a fledgling but well targeted audience with a wider, more causal readership. There were also questions of exclusive stories with a site paywalled up to the eyeballs, and generally how monitoring would be tougher for PRs.

The latest update means it is work revisiting these topics:

  • Exclusives: well it seems you can have your cake and eat it too. Or other clichés. From a PR perspective, The Times is much more appealing for an exclusive story with a few bricks knocked out of the paywall. Your story will now get to the national broadsheet readers who are arguably far more engaged than the legions of causal readers hitting guardian.co.uk and telegraph.co.uk everyday. If you’re looking after a brand whose name won’t grab attention in headlines, this is even more appealing.
  • Monitoring: this will get a whole lot easier, especially for anyone scanning nationals for client and industry coverage to compile a morning news scan. If there’s a big story picked up by other nationals, I’ll bet my Gorkana log-in few PRs have included a Times article in news scans over the last two years. You’re just so much more likely to find it somewhere else first. Presumably the update means Times content will be included in Google Alerts too, but Paid Content confirmed monitoring services such as Meltwater are still off the cards. The downside is any client without a sub won’t be able to read the entire article in their scan, but at least The Times will be back on the radar. Which leads us to…
  • Influence vs exposure: this makes me wonder if Times writers have become less influential than their counterparts at other papers, whose stories are freely viewable by PRs, analysts, clients and…everyone. Does lack of exposure mean less influence? It’s not impossible, but if it’s the case the new paywall could reverse this process. Of course the majority of Times’ writers can be followed on Twitter, and the editorial team haven’t been hidden away in a cupboard since 2010. Some of them started a Tumblr.


The Right to Tweet

Rupert Murdoch joined Twitter less than a month ago in a sort of ‘I’ll give this a bash for the New Year’ kind of way. At the time, this didn’t seem all that interesting. It felt like some PR effort to push News International’s messages from an in-house comms team.

Well, when you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

It’s only been 25 days and Murdoch has already caused a few storms with his tweets. Some of the more widely reported ones include calling Google a ‘piracy leader’ and confirming MySpace was ‘screwed up in every single way’ (as if this needed confirming).

Now he’s gone one colossally controversial step further by comparing the phone hacking scandal in the UK, where several of his papers are at the centre of allocations, to the SOPA bill – calling the objections from the web community “ignorant argument”.

Murdoch Twitter

Agree or disagree with the media mongrel, the controversial and extreme nature of Murdoch’s comments illustrate the potential danger of having an influential company head tweeting.

For online and company reputation, one tweet from a CEO can undo months or even years of hard work. You only have to look at the @replies to Murdoch’s tweets to gauge how few fans he is winning. Of course this is unlikely to bother him, or in the scheme of things News International, in the slightest. Even so, having a prominent company CEO on Twitter comes with inherent responsibly, not least when there’s a high profile court case in the works. There’s not a whole lot of point in gathering an online audience if you’re only going to paint yourself in a darn poor light.

The Daily ‘UK Edition’ gets a quite soft launch

Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper, which launched back in February, has been quietly released to UK readers. According to The Guardian, although there was no official launch date it seems to have been available for over a week.

And it’s been getting mixed reviews – mainly because of the lack of localised content. The paper still contains US-based stories, including reports on US politics, current affairs and a two-week trial offer from Verizon Wireless – a business that does not have a UK consumer offering.

Ads are also US-centric, advertising Fox TV shows and a 4G smartphone. Anyone notice our Gs only go up to three?

It seems a strange tactic to try and woo a new perspective audience, especially from a media mogul with so much experience. So strange in fact, you have to wonder if this is really an actual launch or simply testing the water for something more tailored to the UK. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t just slap ‘Europe’ on the end of its header and hope for the best – so why is The Daily any different?

Murdochs, key messages and a good left hook

The ongoing News of the World and phone hacking scandal keeps gaining momentum, it seems like a story with no end. Today was no exception, with both Rupert and James Murdoch taking the stand (or seat) in front of UK MPs to answer some tough questions.

murdochs say sorry

Putting all the implications and potential outcomes to one side, it was fascinating to see how well the collective Murdochs’ key messages were picked up by the media. Across TV, radio and online reports during and following the Select Committee, two key points were reported time and again:

  • The Murdochs are both very sorry for the actions of their company’s employees
  • Neither of the Murdochs feel responsible for the questionable activities, and their only fault was ‘trusting’ people in their employ

Regardless of what the real story is, you have to admire the father and son media mogul dream team’s ability to control the flow of information amongst their media kin. The same messages have been echoed consistently, although admittedly not universally, across outlets from BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat, to national evening TV news, to media trade titles.

And if there’s one clear third message getting out, it’s that Wendi Murdoch has a solid left hook…a rare insight into Rupert’s domestic life.

Groupon boosting The Times’ Digital Subs – but for how long?

The Times has seen its digital subscribers jump up significantly over the Easter weeekend after running a discount of 70% off a subscription on Groupon, the online voucher site.
the times groupon
The Groupon discount has added over 1,500 new digital subscribers (at time of writing) to the official 79,000 figure Murdoch’s digitally enclosed broadsheet reportedly had last month. Using the discount, new subscribers receive 70% off a three month subscription, meaning it costs just £7.80 instead of £25.98 according to Paid Content.

What would be really interesting, and revealing, to know is how many of these subscribers were clambering to vault over the paywall all along and just needed a little incentive, and how many just thought they’d have a go at the discounted price with minimal or no intention of becoming long term subscribers. The former would be very encouraging for the paper and paid-for news in general, while the latter would suggest the value of online news is much lower in the eyes of the target audience compared to publishers.

In any case, the The Times’ subscription model locks people in for a three month period – all the way to the middle of Summer. So the number will be looking good as we head into this year’s silly season.