Tag Archives: The Times

*The Times “Paywall”: An Unsure Future Led by Readers and Advertisers

23 Nov

Time: AD 2015. Two Londoners greet each other on the street. “Have you paid today’s charge for The Times on the Internet?” One askes. “Sure mate,” the other answers, “Have you?”

Instead of the weather, paying online for news has become the new domain where people can find something in common to start a conversation.

Time: AD 2010, the current time. Four months after the paywall was set up, Assistant Editor Tom Whitwell from The Times Online predicts a bright future for the new pay model of the 255-year-old daily paper.

“Five years later, it’ll be a normal thing to pay [for online contents].” He claims optimistically in a talk to students, against the backdrop that the news industry is struggling to survive the recession.

In July of this year, The Times made a controversial move by putting its online contents behind a “paywall”, where readers needed to pay to see its full articles on the web.

It is able to see charming smiles of William and Kate on the front page of Times Online

But the future is far more unpredictable than what we think it will be.  Especially the news industry has become a business that sells dual products: to both subscribers and advertisers.

To customers: comfort  and persuade

By setting up the paywall, The Times has made buyers of its physical products less upset about the free contents online, which has made them feel paying for something that can actually be free.

According to Whitwell, this is indeed one of the motivations for the new pay model although it “may be not the main reason”.

But it is also true that the paywall has blocked a significant amount of online readers, as the figure suggests that the online traffic of The Times has dropped by around 90 percent.

In consequence, it is blocking itself away from the online conversation, which should involve the free flow of information.

In terms of news dissemination, the paywall also prevents articles from being shared via Facebook or other social networking sites. This hardly does any help to set up the brand image of The Times among minds of the next generation.

Rupert Murdoch on Paywall and iPad

Perhaps the iPad and Kindle versions of The Times may do some help, but the number of subscribers is very limited, as these portable platforms are still exclusive to a small group of people considering the current situation.

To advertisers: show and attract

Except for readers, The Times also has to deal with advertisers. Whilst keeping readers staying, it needs to tell advertisers that it is still a business model that is worth investing.

Despite the dramatic slump of webpage traffic, Rebekah Brooks, Chief Executive of News International believes: “Each of our digital subscribers is more engaged and more valuable to us than very many unique users of the previous model.”, according to Reuters.

Oops, it may cost some money if you want to see the whole article

Her unspoken words are: those who stay with us are more helpful than those random web browsers to attract more advertisers. But she does not imply how.

Tom Whitwell has shed some light upon it, as he tells students: “If you can tell your advertisers exactly what your audience is, ads will become more expensive.”

In an interview he exemplifies the “interesting demographics” of The Times website: “There is a considerable number of younger women. In fact there are more younger women than younger men.”

No matter how people from The Times are optimistic about their paywall, the future remains a puzzle. That is also why other British newspapers have not followed this move, yet.

Whether £2 a week can help The Times survive or not is still unsure. But one thing for sure, as pointed out by Tom Whitwell, is that the paywall has “challenged the news industry quite a lot”. Hopefully this is also a sign of hope.

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For more on this topic, please click here and here to see blog posts by my colleague Stefanie Söhnchen.

* This feature article was written originally for the Westminster News Online.

Tell me you didn’t have an agenda in your mind, please

8 Nov

Being the world’s largest developing country and a rocketing economy, it is not surprising to see China on the news agenda of British media. But it IS a little surprising when I see a Chinese artist being under house arrest so easily finds its place on the news agenda.

Ai Weiwei was under house arrest on Friday at his home in Beijing. This story was easily picked up by British media like the BBC and the Times.

Continuity of the previous agenda?

There must be something to do with his recent work on display. Last month Ai has just filled Turbine Hall of Tate Modern with 100 million hand-painted ceramic sunflower seeds. This is apparently news worthy for British media as it perfectly satisfy the criteria of proximity, supelativeness and to some extent quirky.

Especially after the picture with Ai holding his seeds has been displayed again and again by the media, some impression will be implanted in brains of British people. It is also understandable that it will ring their bells when something (especially bad) happens to this (crazy) modern artist.

But this is not enough to put him onto the news agenda again.

Beyond art

When we are talking about this, we must first know what kind of person our subject is.

The Times describes him as “an outspoken critic of the ruling Communist Party, and a man whose political activism is reflected in his art”. In other words, our subject is somehow in a tricky relation with the Chinese government.

Thanks to The Times pointing out the ruling party, I can hear Noam Chomsky reminding us of the “Propaganda Model”.

To put it in a simple way, the “Propaganda Model” refers to several factors that may influence media outputs. There are basically five filters within the news producing process. Ideology is one of them.

Putting this in mind, we can now to some extent understand why a Chinese artist with political activism could easily find its way to the agenda.

Because the news institution itself has an agenda in its mind.When bringing Ai Weiwei again to the news agenda, it is beyond just art.

Conspiracy talking

I must sound a little about conspiracy now, but so do British media.

Being an uprising economy also means an easy way of being demonized. Plus there is the ideological difference. These factors makes the Chinese government an easy target especially when coming to human rights.

In this sense, Ai Weiwei’s case is a perfect story of a Chinese political activist being in trap set by the evil government. He is one part of the long-term news agenda.

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