Why it’s hard for The Times to leverage social media behind a paywall

Two moves at The Times and Sunday Times — the closure of the Times Opinion Tumblr and the introduction of a retweeting tool — prompted me to write something for Press Gazette about how social media does and doesn’t work behind a paywall.

Here’s the crux of the piece:

Back in the mid/late 2000s search engines drove most people to The Times, accounting for up to 70 per cent of the traffic at one time, according to one senior editorial executive. That was pre-paywall and that was before social began to offer a serious alternative source of high volume traffic.

News International concluded that it couldn’t turn those passing eyeballs into a viable commercial model – and the majority of newspaper groups either side of the Atlantic have come to a similar conclusion.

But a subscription model doesn’t negate the need to create buzz around your journalism. After all, it’s the quality of that journalism that you are selling and to do that effectively you have to show some leg, you have to give non-subscribers a taste of what they are missing, you have to give some of it away for free.

You need to use social media effectively to spread the word. That means no matter how many staffers retweet a cracking page one splash, the link needs to lead somewhere that’s not “sign up here”.

You can read The Times, paywalls and social media here.


Poll Shocker: Newspaper Readers Still Not Willing To Pay Online

You may recall a survey over on The Media Blog last month which found that few UK consumers would be willing to pay for content they can currently access for free.

At the time the survey of 1,000 Media Blog readers was criticised in some quarters for being self-selective, a not unreasonable charge even if other criticisms didn’t quite hit the mark.


Interesting to see, then, that an oh, so kosher paidContent:UK/Harris Interactive poll broadly reflects the earlier findings.

Asked what they would do if their favourite news site starts charging:

  • 74 per cent said they would find another free site
  • 8 per cent said they would use its free headlines
  • 5 per cent  said they would pay to continue using it
  •  12 per cent said they weren’t sure

Back to The Media Blog. When respondents were asked about Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers in particular:

An overwhelming 75 per cent of consumers said they do not believe any of the three UK News International newspapers produce the kind of content which cannot easily be found elsewhere.

Hearts and minds, Rupert. Hearts and minds.

Don’t Write That Freesheet Obituary Just Yet

You may recall earlier this week how a picture of Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alistair Campbell featured erroneously on another man’s obituary. Well, expect his name to be added to Wikipedia’s list of premature obits any time soon.

Another entry for that list? The freesheet.

Despite the demise of thelondonpaper, the layoffs at the Metro and fashionable talk of paid-for online content, the freesheets has still got a lot of life in its lungs.

As I argue in my latest piece for Journalism.co.uk – Free is just another cover price – :

thelondonpaper isn’t closing because the model was flawed but because News International either couldn’t make it work in the current economic climate or was unwilling to give a paper, still in its infancy, the time it needed to become commercially viable.

Not to mention that it was only ever designed to be a spoiler (which may mean that the spoiler’s spoiler, aka London Lite, may go the same way).

Regardless, if you want to know why you’ll still get mugged by a freesheet vendor at a station near you, continue reading: Free is just another cover price.

Born Free: Why the free-sheets’ law of the jungle is a joke
Scarcity, Abundance And The Misapprehension Of Online Advertising