Tuesday, January 03, 2012
Mr. Murdoch, tear down this paywall!
Well, not quite. Though it may be a good idea: let me explain a few interesting little absences recently which I have noticed. I think they are rather telling of a couple of things.Firstly, the Today programme ran an item a little while back about nominative determinism. Time was, the Times' Danny Finkelstein would have been all over a piece like that, as he is an avid collector of examples of the form. No-one even mentioned him.Secondly — and perhaps there's an element of confirmation bias to this — I get the sense that the Telegraph is slowly becoming the paper which gets the 'jointly signed' letters. There's one in today's about care for the elderly, for example. In days gone by, it would have been the Times.Thirdly, one sees and hears somewhat less in general of the Times' journalists and commentators, as well as its (distinctive) content. We don't know who's on staff any more; we don't know what they're saying. For example, apparently Alex Salmond was its Briton of the Year. This will doubly appalling for Salmond: firstly he doesn't want to be British, and secondly, since it was in the Times, he has gained precious little publicity out of it. (Alex Salmond's top ten political principles are publicity for Alex Salmond, nine times, and then Scottish independence — as a means to more publicity for Alex Salmond.)I am getting the impression that putting the Times' whole content behind such a high paywall has done little good for the paper's involvement in and influence on national debate. Now, this is not particularly good for Britain: I think the Times' fairly mainstream, liberal centre-ground position is quite helpful. But it's also not so good, in the long run, for the Times. If it remains absent from the Internet, it is becoming clear that it will eventually be absent from everywhere, including the newsagents'.One might cavil that the FT is holding its own, but of course, the FT has next to no competition in its corner of the marketplace. A better solution for the Times might be to lower the paywall: have some features which are permanently open, like Comment Central, one of the cartoons, the letters page; and also have a handful of articles each day which are free to access. Opening up articles after a period of time (say, a year) would also help the Times advertise its wares while providing subscribers with a distinct benefit.That the Times is remaining resolutely closed off to non-payers suggests that Rupert Murdoch is not particularly bothered about using the Times to influence UK politics. (This may be a different story for the Sun.) Presumably, he sees the Times more as a money machine: but perhaps someone should warn him that geese which lay golden eggs need to be free-range for best results.