The Times Online Pay-Wall Mistake


Last April I reported on The Times and The Sunday Times implementing a pay-wall for their news articles and online content that was once free. I decided I’d allow a few months to pass in order to get an accurate read on whether or not the new pay-wall was successful or an abysmal failure. When I first reported on the story, I had a few preconceived notions concerning how the pay-wall would eventually perform. My initial reaction to the idea of paying for something you can get for free somewhere else didn’t necessarily fill me with confidence in regards to The Times business venture. At least for now, it seems my conjecture was right.

Recent reports from online blog Techdirt have suggested that the new format has been a failure while the Independent is reporting it’s possible that only around four people at News International, The Times parent company, are privy to the official subscription information. If official subscription information isn’t available to the public, what then constitutes a failure? 

As The Times also attempt to decipher that little riddle, and while former readers boycott the pay-wall with their wallets, it should be known that not only readers hate the idea of the pay-to-read format. Queuing up in the complaint line behind the readers are advertisers, publicists and even the journalists who write for The Times.

For the community still associated with The Times online, it seems a vicious cycle has naturally arisen post pay-wall. If readers refuse to pay for what the journalists write, then traffic ultimately decreases. When traffic decreases, businesses who advertise on the site receive less clicks to their site resulting in lower interest to their business. Having spent the last three years in the advertising industry myself while two of those years have been in a recession, let me be the first to tell you how quickly businesses pull their ad spending if they aren’t receiving a healthy return on their investment.

Oddly enough, a new participant in the vicious cycle of The Times failure has emerged during the past few months. Publicists and PR people are keeping their breaking news stories away from The Times due to the fact that the stories appearing on The Times aren’t readily available via search engines. With the pay-wall up and running, search engines such as Google cannot pick up the story headlines of Times articles and match them up with specific keywords the individual searching for the story has typed in.

Simply stated, publicists are keeping their sources away from Times reporters and are giving story leads to other publications where the story will actually be seen by readers. None of the above bodes well for The Times.

In related news, The Times Online weekly podcast TheGame is still available for free in the iTunes store. For readers of EPL Talk new to football, The Times boasts some of the best writers in the UK including, but not limited to, Patrick Barclay, Oliver Kay, Gabriele Marcotti and more.

Regardless of your thoughts on Rupert Murdoch’s pay-wall, it seems to be failing. In this day in age when just about anyone can set up a free blog and post their brilliant or horrible thoughts on football and the culture and news surrounding it, the major papers in the UK need to be seen as professional source material for the masses to consume and not be hidden behind some lame pay-wall destined to fail. 

Marcotti’s, Barclay’s and the other journalist’s work should be available for all to read and discuss. Because of the limited audience now viewing articles on The Times, football fans are missing out on some unique voices. Yet until Murdoch wakes up and realizes his mistakes, he’ll have a floundering online news site and some very talented writers whose voices have gone quiet.


  1. peter September 8, 2010
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