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.


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.


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.

In-App Purchases on the rise

Remember back in February last year when Apple said it wanted a 30% cut of all in-app purchases through iOS apps? At the time there was speculation it could be the beginning of the end for the almighty app store, and lead content owners seeking shortcuts to get around Apple’s cut.

Despite these concerns, the store’s anticipated downfall has not come to pass. In fact, in-app purchasing within free apps seems to increasing in value and popularity. A report from research firm IHS published today reveals a tidy 39% of app revenues in 2011 were from in-app purchases – and this could go as high as 49% by 2012. According to IHS that’s $970 million worth of revenue in 2011, and could be up to $5.6 billion by 2015.

paid for vs in-app purchases IHS

Paid apps vs in-app purchases

Source: IHS Screen Digest

Does this mean the efforts of the Financial Times, and more recently Amazon, in building paid-for HTML5 web apps have all been for nothing? Not exactly. According to the IHS report, in the UK newspaper and magazines accounted for just 5% of all in-app revenues in Q3 2011. So either their punters are paying outside of apps, or they’re not paying much at all.

The relatively thin margins on digital versions of newspapers and books make a 30% cut unprofitable, and unsustainable, for content owners and distributors. The market for other forms of in-app purchases, however, is apparently growing. The margin on a digital edition of the FT may be pretty slim compared to a few extra levels of Angry Birds, additional app features or some in-app currency, but there are a whole lot of people out there willing to pay for them.

So where does this leave the hard working newspaper and magazine publishers looking to get their readers purchasing through apps? Providing free apps that require users to pay up if they want to keep plugging away at a game, reading content or generally using an app seems to be the sweet spot. If this holds true, the best model for publishers would be free apps that provide a limited amount of free content before requiring payment. So a newspaper may give you the first five articles on your morning commute for free, and then ask you for some dosh for the five you read on the commute home.

This is not a million miles away from The Guardian’s approach. The paper’s iPhone app gives three free stories a day before asking for a £4.99 yearly subscription (unless you happen to be in the US, in which case it’s free all the way).  In comparison, as of Friday last the paper’s iPad app started charging a sub of £9.99 a month, following the end of a promotional period with Channel 4. That’s two different subscription rates for two very different forms of content. But with a reported 17% of iPhone users paying for access to the iPhone app, the ‘freemium’ model it employs appears to work.

Readers consume newspapers and magazines in chucks whether it is online or in print. It’s rare you’ll read every article cover to cover, even though you’ve brought the whole paper. Mimicking this with small charges for access, say a handful or articles a month, could help attach more in-app purchases and digital readers. It starts to look like buying more levels in a game – ‘oh you’ve got to the end of that news article, but do you want to progress onto the follow up opinion piece’. If this is how users are approaching in-app purchasing, publishers should be looking at how to adapt their subscription models to fit into purchasing mindset.

Apple may not have many friends amongst content owners (nothing new there), the app store’s model and chances or turning a digital profit aren’t dead yet.

The Paperboy’s Digital Satchel Just Got Bigger

Spotting the online version of print coverage just got a whole lot easier with a new app from Kooaba. The Swiss firm has updated the existing Paperboy app, which allows users to snap a picture of a print article in a newspaper or magazine and use image recognition technology to search and pull up the online equivalent.

Until now, the app had been limited to some 85 titles from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Today’s update expands this to hundreds of titles, including big names such as The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, USA Today, The New York Times and Halifax Courier. Okay, that last one might not be huge, but you get the idea – there’s a lot of titles.

A full list can be seen here.

The app works by linking with NewsPaperDirect and PressDisplay to index online content against published print articles, negating the need for your average QR code. Tom Desmet, Kooaba’s Marketing Manager, told The Next Web, “It’s automatically available for all newspapers that are connected with NewsPaperDirect, and our direct clients. Automatically every day, every page, every article. No QR or anything else needed.”

Clever stuff.

For PRs, there’s a few implications. Sharing content with clients and colleagues just got a bit easier. Say you spot a piece in the paper while out of the office – you can snap a cheeky pic and send the online version straight to your team in the office. Or you can opt to archive the online version to read later, if you’re too busy to go through it right away. One slightly naughty element is the chance to take a sneaky shot of a headline article or two in you local news agents on your way to work, and save those precious pennies.

Which leads to another point – paywalls. While there are hundreds of titles available through Paperboy, The Times and The Financial Times are absent from the otherwise extensive list of national papers. Doubtless this is due to the paywalls currently in place around both publications’ websites, making indexing online articles against print relatively impossible for Kooaba. So there are some restrictions on the breadth of publications that will be part of the app.

Kooaba’s business model is quite straightforward, using what the company calls a ‘social paywall’. While an article is free to view by the app user and anyone the article is shared with, viewing further articles on the same publication will be charged. It’s not a proven model, but should it prove popular, more and more titles could start appearing in Paperboy’s digital satchel.