So the inevitable is upon us; Rupert Murdoch has at last announced the
final details of the Times Online pay wall, due to be implemented in June.  

Whether you think this is a good thing or not
for the news industry as a whole, it has certainly thrown up a compelling
argument in its favour, in terms of digital marketing. 

The type of engaged, specific and
relevant audience that the Times Online can attract is an online advertiser’s
dream, and the wealth of demographic information available will be unrivalled to
that of any other UK
national news site. Creating this elite
pool of consumers will automatically increase the value of each specific user,
turning Times Online readers into a monetisable audience.

This puts News International in a
reasonably strong position to argue for charging advertisers a premium
for
having access to their elite subscribers. Research has shown that where
targeted adverts are placed on the type of niche website that a dedicated
audience selects to regularly use, the brands being advertised are viewed by
consumers as having the endorsement of the site that they are on. Such is the
loyalty and the halo effect granted to these types of sites by their dedicated
supporters.

All successful advertisers know that
targeting, whether in the form of behavioural targeting or bespoke adverts on
niche, relevant websites, goes a long
way towards gaining access to a receptive and relevant goldmine of consumers.
The game is no longer about reach, it’s about relevance.

Smarter, creative and more
intelligent advertisers recognise that, to overcome tighter ad budgets and
increased pressure to deliver results, targeting an engaged, relevant and
interactive audience is vital.

Alongside the paywall, News
International has announced that it will end its ABCe auditing account which
currently measures monthly unique users for Times Online and The Sun website. As
the drop in user numbers is likely to be significant, it does seem a sensible
choice, from a business perspective, to distance the paper from a traditional,
reach-focused measurement tool. However, this move also indicates a shift away
from counting unique users, in exchange for amassing a relevant and loyal
audience of followers.

Whilst experience tells us that this
may not be the easiest message to get across to media land, this change in
publisher attitude should be hugely welcomed by the online ad industry. We all
know that the current attribution and measurement models have their
shortcomings, and whilst there may not be any successful alternatives to
measurement just yet, an acceptance that a smaller but more targeted exposure
will breed a better rate of return, could finally see niche advertisers
receiving the acknowledgment and attribution from brands that they deserve.

Currently there is still a widespread lack of awareness from publishers that
the scatter-gun approach of exposing as many people as possible to an advert,
regardless of its relevance, just isn’t as successful. However, News
International’s change in attitude could hopefully spread more widely across
publisher platforms.

The only part of Murdoch’s plan that
doesn’t quite fit in with this business argument is the apparent disregard for
the value of Times Online advertising its own
brand to the 20m unique users who currently visit the site every
month.

20m is a huge number of people to which to demonstrate the quality
of content and journalism on the website, in a bid to tempt them to buy the
paper, or subscribe online.

It’s interesting that there has been no mention of
an FT-style service of offering a limited amount of articles for free per month
to attract subscribers. This is despite the fact that, by all accounts, this
approach works well as demonstrated by the growing number of niche publications
such as New Scientist and Economist who have recently adopted this approach.