Home > Random thoughts > paywalls can work if marketed right

paywalls can work if marketed right

One bit of news that’s been causing quite a bit of debate lately has been the announcement by Rupert Murdoch’s news company that Times and Sunday times are going to start charging for access to their websites in June. Now there are plenty of doom-sayers out there who predict that the new scheme is bound to fail miserably; within weeks of the pay wall going up people will just switch to other free on line sources like the BBC and before you know it the Times and Sunday Times, i.e. their online versions, will sink to the bottom of obscurity.

However, I think the pay wall just might work, it all depends on how they market it. They’re already talking about ‘quality journalism’ as opposed to the junk spewed out by the blogosphere.  And it has to be said that there are still plenty of people who respond to the appeal of exclusivity and glamor.  For the time being, while both the Times and Sunday Times can be read by anyone online, you can go, look at their content and compare the actual quality of their journalism to that found elsewhere.  Let me say, I’m no expert on what constitutes quality journalism. To me if it’s just news reporting then it’s pretty much the same everywhere, news is news, where things begin to be different is in the take on the same news, which, essentially, is another word for opinion. And opinions are just that, they’re a dime a dozen, whether they come from a revered Pulitzer prize laureate or some kid in Wisconsin.

But that’s not really the point, while the sites are still open you can take a look at a couple of articles in their opinion column and then surf right on over to some blog by some unknown individual, compare them and decide which is better. I dare say they’re not really that much different, if anything, some blog posts are more interestingly written than the columns in the Times, but now imagine a situation (which in just a few months you won’t have to imagine) where the Times is behind a pay wall, you can just find an article on their site on a subject you’re interested in, you don’t actually see their content until/unless you’ve paid for it. All you know about their content now is that it is ‘exclusive’ and ‘premium’ and that it’s ‘quality journalism’. Those are all just catch words, but they actually work, after a while you start fantasizing about this ‘quality journalism’ hiding behind their paywall and finally you realise you simply must take a look at it, so you cough up a few pounds.

Now, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn principle kicks in, you’ve seen a naked man painted to look like a giraffe doing an obscene dance, but since you’ve paid to see this performance (and remember before you parted with your hard earned cash, you were promised something unearthly and infinitely beautiful) in all probability you’re not going to admit it totally sucks ass, even to yourself, even if on some level you will know you’ve been had. So all of a sudden, the very same content that has been more or less standard news and journalism becomes ‘premium’ and ‘quality journalism’ not because something changes about the content itself, but because Rupert Murdoch tells you so and makes you pay to access it. And before you know it you’ve already become a paid subscriber and are spreading the gospel of ‘quality journalism’ like those poor suckers in Huckleberry Finn who went out and praised the show to their friends because they didn’t want to be the only suckers in town.
Anyway it looks like Rupert Murdoch and Co are placing a wager on human psychology and despite all the scorn poured on them over the last few months by staunch proponents of all free all the time, his little scheme just might work.

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