Murdoch’s UK paywall – set to change the world of online news

May 26, 2010

Rupert Murdoch could never be accused of stupidity. Rash behaviour at times, certainly, but he’s ruthlessly smart and totally focused on the bottom line.

In a few weeks time Murdoch’s most valuable (in terms of reputation and cache, if not profitability) media assets in the UK will disappear behind a paywall.

The Times and The Sunday Times will cost you real money from some time in June 2010. Already if you want to check-out the still free content you have to sign-up to go past the front page.

Next time you visit The Times, take a moment to register...have your credit card handy too.

Paywalls are controversial; supporters argue that without significant injection of subscriber funds there will be no more quality journalism, while detractors say that paywalls are anathema to the very ethos of the Internet.

One critic, Future magazine’s CEO Stevie Spring says she wishes Murdoch well, but remains unconvinced that the paywall experiment can work:

“Perishable news – like that News Corporation is talking about, for instance – is ubiquitous,” she said. “The basic rules of marketing say people will substitute and not pay for what they can get free. Good luck to them, I really hope it works but all the norms of marketing say it won’t. [However] it is an experiment they can afford to make.” [guardian.co.uk]

Roy Greenslade also puts the strategy under the financial spotlight, pointing out that subscriber numbers would have to jump exponentially to cover the costs of the newspapers’ £100 million editorial budget:

If 100,000 people agreed to pay £2 a week for access to the papers, it would result in annual revenue of £10m. It’s a sobering thought that the sum is but a tenth of the papers’ editorial budget and less than an eighth of their current joint annual losses. [Greenslade blog] Read the rest of this entry »


Is the magazine industry falling over too?

May 6, 2010

This week I was invited to give a presentation to the staff of NZ Doctor magazine and a couple of its sister publications. I was asked to reflect on the state of the magazine industry and the future of news and journalism.

The slideshow is available for download, but today a story about the potential sale or closure of Newsweek brings the issue into stark relief.

According to news reports Newsweek is losing money fast and if a buyer is not found soon, it may close, but perhaps it’s not the only title to be facing an uncertain future.

I recently got an email from the publisher Conde Nast offering me heavily discounted subscriptions to most of its magazine titles. Unfortunately, it seems that because I live in New Zealand I can’t take advantage of this bargain.

Wired for $US 10 and The New Yorker for $40, a delight for magazine readers. But, why would Conde Nast do this? I can only think it’s because the magazines are not doing well and they want to shore up circulation figures to shill the advertisers.

News stand sales of magazines are also falling, around 7 per cent last year in Australia and by even more in the United States.

1. Cosmopolitan – 1,616,908 (down 7.8 percent)

2. People – 1,319,350 (down 12.77 percent)

3. Woman’s World – 1,175,550 (down 8.31 percent)

4. First – 1,066,167 (down 9.29 percent)

5. Us Weekly – 843,479 (down 2.98 percent)

6. In Touch Weekly – 745,123 (down 17.67 percent)

7. O, the Oprah Magazine – 693,054 (down 5.58 percent)

8. Family Circle – 673,286 (down 22.55 percent)

9. In Style – 625,589 (down 20.13 percent)

10. Star – 601,115 (down 14.29 percent)

Industry types are saying that the slump in advertising revenues that dogged news and magazine publishers in 2009 might now be over and that sales are trending up. Figures seem to be still reasonable with the top four US titles all still selling over 1 million copies, but the percentage drops are huge for some.

Perhaps there’s not many real magazine buffs out there anymore, but I for one will not be curling up in bed with an iPad anytime soon. I like to read a magazine and to do the puzzles with a pencil.


Inquirer sale – save a paper to kill an industry?

April 29, 2010

The troubled Philadelphia Inquirer and its sister tabloid the Daily News have new owners this week after a fierce bidding war between a consortium of creditors and a billionaire business figure.

The consortium of lenders won with a bid of $139 million, but this price is a fraction of the value in the company the last time it changed hands.

In 2006 the Inquirer and the News were sold for $515 million. That could have been an inflated price at the time, but the fall is indicative of the way that newspaper companies have been hemorrhaging value over the last five years.

The sale removes the threat of bankruptcy from the papers, but as one local Inquirer staffer and union rep said, it may be out of the frying pan and into the fire. The question remains: What will the new owners do with two newspapers in an urban market that clearly cannot sustain them?

“There is certainly a tremendous sense of relief in that this long and complex and rather torturous bankruptcy process may finally be at an end,” said Diane Mastrull, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and a chair of The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia. “But we are also somewhat worried because now we enter possibly another new and terrifying phase, and that is new ownership without much of an idea of what their expectations are for their business and what their commitment to the businesses will be.” [Papers sold to creditors group]

The Inquirer group has been in trouble for some time and has been facing closure for months. Even so, the Daily News won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2010.

The new owners are already calling for “concessions” from the newspaper unions representing staff on the mastheads.

You can reasonably interpret this as more job cuts, less staffing and budget for news operations, more advertorial, etc. etc.

The papers seem safe-ish for now, but their long-term future is far from certain. There are likely to be similar fire sales in other American news markets too.

Circulation figures released this week show an overall decline of around 9 percent across most major markets in the US.

The San Francisco Chronicle – already under the threat of closure from owners the Hearst Corporation, showed a decline of over 20 percent.

While the decline has not yet proved terminal for some titles, year on year for the past three years it has been steady and shows no sign of turning around.

That’s why the sale of the Inquirer to creditors could still be dangerous. If they want to cut their losses and get back whatever they can on their investment, closure could still be on the cards.


Honesty again – whodathunkit! What do we do about the news?

February 21, 2010

There must be something in the water, or maybe there’s an optometrist involved. I’m not sure what the reason is but another nationally syndicated columnist has let fly at her reporter colleagues  this weekend.

The fun started when Tracey Barnett claimed most columnists were short-sighted egoists in the NZ Herald yesterday. Tracey’s lament was that columnists can’t see past the daily rush of ‘new’ and, when it comes to analysis, they tend to be pack-like in approach.

We get so sucked into the vortex of the endlessly hungry daily news machine, we begin to think every story is about the fight, not the resolution. Suddenly our job becomes declaring momentary winners and losers.

[All commentary, no analysis, all of the time, NZH 20 Feb 2010]

Now Rosemary McLeod in the Sunday Star Times is having a go at the shallow pool of news-celebrity culture and the fact that precious column inches are wasted on fatuous stories about the sex lives of newsreaders and their ilk.

[4pm Sunday update]: Sometimes it does take me most of the the day to get through the papers and so I’ve only recently come across Deborah Coddington’s column ‘Live in the public eye? Get used to being gawked atRead the rest of this entry »


Michael Wolff on Rupert Murdoch

October 18, 2009

I always enjoy Michael Wolff in Vanity Fair; he has great access to important media people and Rupert Murdoch is no exception.

Wolff’s biography of Murdoch is also pretty good. In this piece he brings up-to-date the current Murdoch view about paywalls, etc and News Corp’s war with public broadcasters.
Michael Wolff on Rupert Murdoch Business: vanityfair.com

Shared via AddThis


World Media Summit – the future of news is in safe hands…not

October 13, 2009

OK, so can you tell me what’s wrong with this picture?

Chinese President Hu Jintao (7th L) poses for a group photo with co-chairpersons of the World Media Summit prior to the summit's opening ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, on Oct. 9, 2009. The two-day summit, hosted by Xinhua News Agency, opened here Friday morning. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

Chinese President Hu Jintao (7th L) poses for a group photo with co-chairpersons of the World Media Summit prior to the summit's opening ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, on Oct. 9, 2009. The two-day summit, hosted by Xinhua News Agency, opened here Friday morning. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

Talk about a nightmare featuring Men In Black. This comes pretty close.

The World Media Summit was held in Beijing from 9-11 October 2009 and brought together the leaders of 170 global news media companies to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the news industry in the age of News 2.0.

A number of important speeches were given by eminent people and a long-winded weasel-word statement was issued at the close of the summit.

It’s remarkable for the lack of irony, but the statement called for the news media to be a conduit for “world peace”. Yes, if this sounds like some lame beauty pageant, that’s exactly what it was, viz:

We hope that media organizations around the world will provide accurate, objective, impartial and fair coverage of the world’s news events, and promote transparency and accountability of governments and public institutions, and thus facilitate the mutual understanding as well as exchange of views and ideas among peoples from different countries and regions.

A fine sentiment, particularly given the summit was hosted by the Chinese regime and the keynote address was given by that well-known democrat and champion of media freedom Hu Jintao.

Read the rest of this entry »


25 years of the broadcasting school: a celebratory gaze into the future of news

July 27, 2009

I spent an interesting 24 hours in Christchurch on Friday and Saturday as a guest of the New Zealand Broadcasting School. I was a speaker at the school’s conference to celebrate 25 years of turning out great Kiwi broadcasters and industry heavyweights.

Some other interesting speakers too, including the head of the Australian Special Broadcasting Service, Shawn Brown, himself a Kiwi; Brett Impey, the CEO of Mediaworks; Rick Ellis, CEO of TVNZ, Jim Mather, head of Maori television and John Follett, the head of Sky New Zealand.

All of them had some interesting things to say about the state of Kiwi broadcasting, but they are also fairly optimistic that the industry is in relatively good shape-if only it wasn’t for this blasted recession. Advertising revenues are down somewhere between 15 and 30 per cent and of course there’s been several rounds of cost-cutting, particularly in news and current affairs, but each of them was surprisingly upbeat about the state of broadcasting, particularly television, in the relatively (in global terms) small New Zealand market.

I was on a panel talking about the future of news and my fellow presnters were TVNZ head of news and CAff, Anthony Flannery, his TV3 counterpart, Mark Jennings and a recent NZBS graduate, Katrina Bennett, who’s now with the Radio Network in Wellington.

We had a lively discussion and again both Mark and Anthony were confident that television will continue to be the dominant news media for some time to come.There were some great questions from the audience too: about the ubiquitous TVNZ live cross that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Anthony Flannery made the point that he thinks TVNZ news gets it right about 40 per cent of the time. There was also some discussion of how PR is tending to overshadow news to some degree and Katrina made the interesting point that to some extent journalists have just become the re-mediators of press releases. She asked why don’t organisations like the police just go straight to the public and this provoked some interesting responses from the panel and from the floor. Read the rest of this entry »


When is a newspaper no longer a newspaper?

February 2, 2009

There’s been some movement over the last year of newspapers dropping their print edition and becoming online-only. Which raises an interesting philosphical question: When does a newspaper stop being a newspaper?

For example, the Christian Science Monitor will stop publishing a daily print edition in April 2009 while offering a weekly subscription print product and a continuously updated online version (edition? publication?).

Does the CSM then stop being a newspaper? More importantly is this how newspapers will “die”?

While discounting for the inevitable puffery of self-reporting, this is how the CSM described its shift in an October 2008 online editorial:

While the Monitor’s print circulation, which is primarily delivered by US mail, has trended downward for nearly 40 years, “looking forward, the Monitor’s Web readership clearly shows promise,” said Judy Wolff, chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society. “We plan to take advantage of the Internet in order to deliver the Monitor’s journalism more quickly, to improve the Monitor’s timeliness and relevance, and to increase revenue and reduce costs. We can do this by changing the way the Monitor reaches its readers.” [Monitor shifts from print to web-based strategy]

Three things about this:

“improving timeliness and relevance”; “increase revenue” and “reduce costs”.

The first is not really questionable. Of course continuous editorial updates are timely and relevant. But how is the Monitor going to increase revenue? Obviously by reducing costs – newsprint, delivery, etc – but this does not equate to an increase in online advertising necessarily.

It seems that the jury’s still out on that whole issue. According to an analysis piece in the LA Times, the CSM strategy is risky because online advertising revenue is not guaranteed and the paper takes an immediate hit in subscription income.

But the change will present considerable risks. Unlike most daily newspapers, the five-day-a-week Monitor receives the bulk of its revenue from subscriptions, not advertising.

The Monitor plans a new weekly magazine to maintain its print presence, but that is expected to bring in only a fraction of the $9.7-million circulation revenue it receives annually. To compensate, the publication will have to increase online advertising dramatically. [Monitor to discontinue daily print edition]

The whole shift also raises another question. If it’s no longer a newspaper, what does the newsroom look like? Read the rest of this entry »


The end of journalism?

October 11, 2008

Next weekend [17-18 October] I’m speaking at a conference in Luton with the dread-inducing title, The end of journalism? The question mark is probably the most encouraging symbol here. It signifies that it might no be the end.

The conference has been organised by journalism and media studies academics at the University of Bedfordshire and I was lucky enough to score a late invitation thanks to my new City University colleague, James. The conference organisers have outlined the purpose of the international gathering against the background of the commercial and confidence crisis now besetting the news industry globally.

The last few years have witnessed a fresh wave of claims for the potential of internet-based technologies to widen participation in the public sphere. This period has also witnessed a steady stream of jeremiads about the impact of user-generated content on professional journalism. This wide-reaching cultural debate takes places against the backdrop of the ongoing restructuring of the global news industries.  In some quarters these changes are regarded with deep suspicion whilst others see a bright future for the media. Central to arguments presented by both sides in this debate is the value of ‘journalistic’ function to wider society. [Conference blurb and agenda]

The conference title prompted me to do a Google search and there’s a couple of blog sites that also adopt the End of Journalism title, but without the comfort of the question mark.

Read the rest of this entry »


Epic 2015 – what’s beyond the horizon?

September 13, 2008

I was fortunate today to meet and interview Matt Thompson. He’s a journalist, blogger and thinker. He’s also the guy behind the wildly successful viral flash videos Epic 2014 and Epic 2015.

The premise of these 8.5 minute creations is to predict the future of the media in our digital world. They were both created a few years ago now and they tried to look ahead 10 years from when they were produced.

Epic 2014 was made in 2004, but a year later Matt decided it needed updating.

While I was in Columbia, Missouri at the Missouri School of Journalism 100th anniversary celebrations I met Matt and heard him talk about a new project. He calls it “Wikipedia-ing the news”, but admits the name doesn’t really capture what he’s doing.

Matt is a visiting fellow this year at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at MU that was also launched today.

I was able to grab a few minutes with Matt between his break-out session and the official launch where he and the other RJI fellows were announced.

I asked Matt why he had changed some of the content from Epic 2014 in the second version, a year later.

Read the rest of this entry »