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Paying for news online, by Alastair McKenzie

Paying for news online

31 March 2010

Alastair McKenzie, British Guild of Travel Writers

773_319473941.jpgThis is a hot topic at the moment, following Rupert Murdoch’s announcement that he is going to install a paywall on some of his News International titles. From June you will need to pay £1 a day, or £2 for a week’s access to the Times and the Sunday Times. The Sun and News of the World will require subscriptions at a yet to be announced date.

Will it work? Do we want it to work?

Opinion is completely divided. A lot of struggling publishers and writers would like it to work, but aren’t holding their breath. A lot of web users don’t want it to work, but fear it might.

My view is that paywalls could work but not unless virtually all publishers have them and a market of wholesalers is established to sell bundles of subscriptions; rather like TV channels are bundled on Virginmedia or Sky. Eg Tescos, Saga, Amazon or AOL might create a ‘Lifestyle & Culinary’ package of subscriptions to the home, cooking and travel pages of UK and US newspapers and magazines.

The important thing for Murdoch to grasp is that, although somebody has to jump first, he cannot go it alone for long because fundamentally the Internet works by referral. That was Tim Berners-Lee’s masterstroke - inventing the hyperlink.

If I buy a newspaper, I browse stories within that paper. The paper, its style and expertise is important.

On the Internet I browse news items wherever they are, having been referred there by a link on, for example, Twitter, Yahoo’s front page, an email, a forum thread, my newsreader or a blog comment. The location of the article is un-important until I evaluate what I have read – “It’s the Mail. Do I believe it?”

The point is: if I follow a link to a page I can’t access, I’ll try another. If I write a link pointing to a news item, it won’t be one my readers can’t access.

 
 
     

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