The Times’ Paywall (Shirky, 2010)– Article Discussion

Shirky, C, (2010), The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics

Shirky’s (2010) article about The Times paywall ignited a rally of comments and goes to illustrate the ongoing pay-for-access debate. His statement about commodity seemed a little off the point considering that newspapers have been in competition with radio, TV and other media for decades (Greenslade, 2010). Have newspapers local and regional, ever been the only cow? Unlikely, there was word-of-mouth before print and with small communities, messages spread quicker than they can be written.

Looking beyond his discussion about commodity I do agree that online the newspaper enters a new dimension of competition and it is not just with other websites. John Smith who lived on Ivy Lane probably video’d the escaped elephant walking through suburbia on his phone, uploaded it to YouTube, Tweeted it and shared it with his friends on Facebook before Reuters had finished their coffee!

The internet has empowered generations to become content writers – everyone is a journalist, this is the real competition for newspapers. Understandably why would individuals pay for something they can Google and get for free, I wouldn’t. However, I would want to know that the news was credible that it came from first-hand witnesses; that the author had spoken to the ‘fat cat’ CEO on his way home not the doorman. The institution of the press gives this and can bring in-depth news to the public due to extensive networks that bloggers are unlikely to go near.

Can the printed press survive this digital shift – simply yes with transformation. As Clay (2010) says in response to Shirky’s article “I read the print edition because the print edition allows for page scanning in a way that no web version does – and this includes seeing ads that matter and acting on them – but then online I get the added value of no ink on my fingers, no paper to throw away and perhaps ongoing updates.” Newspapers provide a sensory experience, the pink of the FT, the struggle with gigantic broadsheets on the tube, that smell, scanning the inserts in front of the fire after Sunday lunch – can the web give you this?

Technological advances provide opportunities to the print industy to embrace new communication methods, one being electronic paper / electronic ink display – a display technology designed to mimic the appearance of ink on paper (Genuth, 2007). As the use of oil developed and changed so to must the press to avoid falling into the myopic trap of the railways (Levitt, 1960).

Online how will newspapers fare? By being at the cutting edge, by engaging and encouraging the world to contribute – by adopting co-creation and being free the public will soon learn where all and the most relevant news is. Advertising, special reports and category subscriptions are a simple way of generating an income going forward. However, one does have a sense of forboding for the beloved newspaper online as the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter aggregate, communicate and engage in real-time are these the newspapers of the future?


Clay, A, (2010), The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics, [Online], Available: [Accessed: 14th November 2010]
Genuth, I, (2007) The Future of Electronic Paper, [Online] Available: [Accessed: 14th November 2010]
Greenslade, R, (2010), More, still more, on The Times paywall debate, [Online], Available: [Accessed: 14th November 2010]
Levitt, T. (1960a), Marketing Myopia, Harvard Business Review, July / August, pp.138-151
Shirky, C, (2010), The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics, [Online], Available: [Accessed: 14th November 2010]

2 thoughts on “The Times’ Paywall (Shirky, 2010)– Article Discussion

Add yours

  1. Author: Michael Lister
    Date: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 8:28:54 PM GMT
    Subject: RE: Times Paywall Article – Natasha Allden

    Google could afford to pay for news…don’t you think they should?


    REPLY (17.11.10 21:59)

    Yes, I think Newspapers could pay for the news in the same way Google has with the likes of Associated Press for their aggregated product – Google News ( However I do question the scalable value of this moving forward. Newspapers already pay for news with specialist reporters and journalists throughout the world with the likes of Reuters and paying for news when they are already getting it seems unnecessary. I do believe that newspapers should leverage the power of shared and co-created content, the web today is about relevant content and people will not go to a site that just delivers news.

    Readers will not only want the headline and the opinion of one, but the opportunity to hear other statements, get a look behind the scenes and importantly contribute / debate. This focus drives the creation of communities and even knowledge centres which positions newspapers as information leaders and for the consumer become their first point of call.

    Say newspapers did start to pay for news and be an aggregate in the same way as Google News, yes they would get relevant and rich content, but how do they turn that expense into revenue. Potentially newspapers need to move from their proudly independent positions ie. conservative vs labour and form partnerships, affiliations – an aggregation of that form would truly cater to a broader demographic without the expense of purchasing news.

    Natasha Allden

  2. Further Enquiry: 16/11/10
    Author: Michael Lister
    Enquiry: What would you say if you were advising on their digital business strategy? What should they do?

    I would look at the Digital Strategy once the The Times has re-positioned itself in the news market. Newspapers are about selling news (and advertising space), to meet the new culture of online, this needs to change – Newspapers need to become news centres first and foremost. To deliver this via a paywall would be exclusive – when I am searching for news I will put the term in Google and get it for free, so there is a need to respond to this expectation and provide (some) news for free.

    The first step is a volume driving activity, optimise online news so that when people search for news items E-Times are top in organic search which goes hand-in-hand with PPC campaigns on high attention / competitive news pieces which is likely to be covered by a myriad of publications i.e. Prince William’s engagement.

    With news (in its basic form) being free, will encourage brand loyalty, build trust and provide integrity – this first level engagement is the objective of the volume driving activity.

    The second step is to provide a point of interaction i.e. forums, comments on blogs, event calendars etc. This community building activity re-inforces user loyalty and further adds value to the user. Again this is a free feature. Linking into other key sharing sites i.e. bookmarking, facebook pages, micro-sites, and flickr brings the news to more browsers and provides transparency, encourages relationship building and importantly engages – driving traffic to the e-times site.

    These interaction methods also encourage contribution and (where applicable) co-creation if E-Times is also integrating relevant comments from users is likely to drive interaction and shows that The Times values the reader and it is not just a one way push activity. Also the more relevant content, the more relevant E-Times becomes, moving toward that primary news centre objective. Google will also favour this in search.

    Looking to revenue generating options, the next step is to provide add-ons, exclusivity that these users buy-in to due to the strong engagement, community will further re-inforce this. This stage of the relationship building is about providing added value and retaining readers, it is this value that is charged, examples include:
    • Detailed news story
    • Report Access
    • Podcast Download
    • Vodcast Download
    • Specialist comments / views

    These examples are generic to all users and a subscription base would be the simplest way to manage and provide best usability for customers. However, the option to purchase as a one-off needs to be provided for as well – it is all about choice and not just a paywall round everything (Bercovici, 2009).

    Taking this added value further, providing specialist category subscriptions i.e. Culture, which gives users everything about culture – this is where the building of partnerships commence i.e. with ENO, Royal Ballet etc acting as a vertical site. These options can be bundled into different subscriptions i.e. access to everything, culture and general news only, culture only etc.

    Relevancy is the most important retention tool; by giving users the option to tailor what they get access to is empowering and encourages that exclusive mentality. It is also necessary to provide access across different platforms like iApps in the same way News Corp has provided an iPad subscription to the Wall Street Journal (Bercovici, 2010)
    As with printed paper there is no reason why advertising can not continue in an online environment. The consideration here is that what you can charge advertisers is dependent upon volumes, retention, click through etc. This re-iterates the importance of the first two steps which focusses on the early stages of the relationship.

    An integrated digital campaign is not stand alone and equal attention needs to be given to offline activity. Considerations here include bundled packages with online and offline subscriptions; revision of print numbers but still making this option available.

    This is an opportunity not necessarily a hindrance, newspapers can be pioneers in new technologies like augmented reality and electronic ink. Newspapers are no different to other businesses in that it is essential to move to the relationship marketing approach; this not only builds a customer database but provides valuable insight that can drive further product / service creation. Figures to date have shown a considerable drop in readership despite the initial sign up (Digital Intelligence, 2010). I see integrated campaigns that build a customer relationship based on the company’s revised objective becoming a news centre not a news seller, is a scalable solution.


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