The New York Times announced plans to charge for web access to its content earlier this year, but it looks like Rupert Murdoch's plan to "institute fair pricing for digital journalism" is going to beat Schulzberger to the punch. Today News Corp. announced that U.K. properties The Times and Sunday Times will go behind a paywall in June.
News Corp. has wisened to the fact that paid models need to offer added value. The Times' paid sites will have extra features to get the audience "to be part of it." The question is, will customers buy into it?
Before charging for access, The Times' new sites will be revamped and relaunched in May. Registered customers can preview the sites for free for a month. Starting in June, The Times' site will cost £1 a day and £2 a week. That's comparable to the paper product, which retails on newsstands for £1.
The new site, “TheTimes.co.uk”, will replace the “Times Online” brand, and News Corp. is planning to launch mobile paid applications as well.
While other publications mull over how best to implement paid models, News Corp. is betting that improved features and access will make The Times' digital news worth "the price of a cup of coffee":
"For the first time, readers will have access to all their favourite sections and writers. We will be introducing new digital features to enhance our coverage and encourage interactivity."
While it is unclear exactly how much will be new on the site, the relaunch of The Times website could provide an opportunity to add value sheerly by making the news easier to digest. As I've said before, the iPad isn't the only way to fix digital consumption of the news. There's plenty of room to improve the PC experience.
Because so many publications have subpar websites, getting the user experience right could get people to pony up. But they're going to expect more than simply the newspaper online.
The financial payout is certainly enticing. As The Guardian points out:
“Assuming that only five percent of daily users convert to the paywall system – a standard metric for paywalls – that would bring in £1.83 million if they each buy a £1 daily pass. At a 10 percent conversion, it would net £3.66 million per month for the two papers. If more people of those choose to buy the weekly pass, the revenues would be lower.”
But counting on a small percentage of a dwindling userbase is not a foward thinking strategy. Publications may be able to depend upon the kindness of reader this year. But next year they'll have to provide even more value to keep them. And on increasingly tight budgets, that becomes an even more difficult proposition. No matter, publications are hard up for money and the great paid experiment will continue forward. From News Corp.:
"This is just the start. The Times and The Sunday Times are the first of our four titles in the UK to move to this new approach."