It’s official – he wasn’t just threatening. Rupert Murdoch has started the process of making his newspapers’ websites charge for content.
To be fair, he’s been threatening to do this for some time. As early as April last year Reuters reported his remarks at The Cable Show, a US trade fair for cable TV operators, that ultimately it would be unsustainable for news gatherers to continue to provide free access to their product on the Web.
The paper concerned, the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, isn’t the first title within Murdoch’s News Corporation to charge for content – the Wall Street Journal has been doing it for years. The difference is that the WSJ already had its paywall in place before Murdoch took it over in 2007. Indeed, Murdoch considered making access to the site free, before deciding to leave things as they were.
The move’s certainly consistent with Murdoch’s complaints about those who offer content free (eg the BBC) or who reproduce it from other sites (eg Google). Earlier this month News International (who publish The Times and The Sun) blocked the NewsNow aggregator from their websites. And, of course, Sky Sports has made certain football matches pay-per-view for several years, so it should come as no surprise that another part of the Murdoch empire has picked up on the idea.
On the other hand, it’s certainly a break with consensus. Received wisdom has been that people won’t pay for news online, with the possible exception of economic and financial news (the Financial Times has charged for full access to its content for several years). Many of the country’s regional newspaper publishers are moving towards publication of e-editions, often free, although of the larger publishers only Newsquest and particularly Archant have made significant steps in that direction.
It’ll be interesting – to say the least – to see whether the experiment works.