28 January 2015

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Midlands daily scraps online paywall after nine months

An online paywall launched by the UK’s biggest-selling regional daily newspaper last April has been scrapped.

The Midlands News Association had begun charging for selected content on its Wolverhampton-based Express & Star website, including photo galleries, football match analysis and traffic and travel.

A print, online and smartphone package was offered for £2.34 a week, which included delivery of the newspaper as well as access to the paywall-protected parts of the Express & Star 24 website.

However it has now been axed in what appears to be one of the first acts of incoming MNA managing director Phil Inman, who took over from Alan Harris at the start of the new year.

At the time of the paywall launch, the paper’s then deputy editor Keith Harrison said the package was an attempt to add value for readers and increase circulation.

However, readers are now being encouraged to download an iPhone app at a cost of £3.99 a month or £1.49 a week in order to read the digital edition of the paper on their iPhones and iPads.

Mr Inman said:  “The 24 premium service has been withdrawn following a review of the MNA’s digital platforms.

“New digital newspaper apps for iPad and iPhone users were launched this week as part of online enhancements planned for 2012.

“The feedback from customers using the new app has been positive. Further projects are in development.”

The Express & Star paywall was latest in what have proved to be a series of short-lived online paywall initiatives by the regional press.

Two years ago, Johnston Press carried out an experiment by launching paywalls on six weekly newspaper websites but it was quietly dropped after a few months.


  1. Mj

    No surprise there – like every other regional, they have no idea how to make money from the Internet.

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  2. Harold, Heywood, Lancs

    There’s just no way out. The internet is free unless you’ve got some wonderful, amazing content. And as the world gets smaller, a big event on your doorstep suddenly doesn’t seem so big. As for iPads etc it’s worth a dart but most people who use them are from a bigger, wider generation whose communities are of interest, not of locality. I honestly reckon you can chuck a million ideas at the regional media and not one will stick. It’s a sad but an inevitable outcome of a change in lifestyle and a change in the consumption of knowledge. Very small groups of committed community publishers who work hard to just gain a living, rather than bigger entities trying to make a profit and provide a living for many employees, are the only answer I see to keeping the local flame burning. Unless you happen to be the BBC and have people like me paying for your services in the far-flung corners of the nation that are of absolutely no interest to me.

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  3. InTheKnow, Journalismland

    My mole tells me the number of subscribers barely made it into three-figures – other regionals be warned, internet paywalls will not work.

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  4. Anon

    And just how SHOULD regionals make money from the internet, Mj?

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  5. Gordon Stevenson

    As long as the BBC continues to report as aggressively as they do within hyper local areas, regional publishers like MNA and every other will have no unique content to entice readers to pay, since the free BBC source will always exist. Alternatives to paywalls for local publishers must be explored.

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  6. redundanthack, lancashire

    Obviously the key is to give away all the editoral content online completely free. And then fewer people buy the paper and erm, erm……………………oh, they;ve already tried that.

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  7. Mj

    Anon, I don’t have the answer to that. But anyone could see that charging for a paywall, while giving content away free as well, wasn’t going to work.

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  8. Dying breed

    what a shambles

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  9. House Rules

    “Two years ago, Johnston Press carried out an experiment by launching paywalls on six weekly newspaper websites but it was quietly dropped after a few months.”

    Following on from a point above, I heard from a very good source that one of the papers did not reach 20 subscribers.
    And that number included the editorial and IT staff who had to register (then claim it back on expenses of course) to view their work on the web.

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  10. Deadmeat

    Print is dead! So we are told. If you want the news to read in future, you had better buy an Ipad or Iphone. Personally, within my friends/family group, I don’t know anyone with an Ipad, a few with Iphones, but not everyone had either one or the other. So, doesn’t that make it a rather narrow audience, is the news only for the people with enough money to buy expensive equipment and pay expensive monthly tariffs? Do you really want to sit reading the news on the bus at 11pm at night going through some of our inner cities with a £500 Ipad on your lap! Braver than me.

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  11. Dave

    @Deadmeat surely declining reader figures tell their own story?

    Personally I don’t think it’s just about the internet, the advent of 24 hour news and Sky Sports have also surely had an impact.

    Also smart phone costs have come down a helluva lot in the last few years, many people can have a cheap Android handset for not much of a monthly outlay and internet access is a pretty standard fixture on most mobile phones now.

    And in a years time the expensive handsets won’t be very expensive as something shiny and new comes along. In 5 years time tablets of a similar standard to the ipad2 will be cheap and commonplace.

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  12. Fencehopper

    My original comment didn’t appear and I can’t be bothered to type it out, but the only way to create content with enough unqiue value online is to invest in journalism – and the E&S like every other publisher doesn’t want to do that.

    While you continue to churn out identical copy online and in print you’re never going to make it work online. The trick is to be expansive with the online offering and think outside the norm. Publishers also need to recognise the relative value of advertising and stop targeting the same old advertisers.

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  13. Fencehopper

    Re: Deadmeat – you not having a tablet etc doesn’t mean the market doesn’t exist. Take the Kindle as another addition – one of the most purchased Christmas items, yet very few (if any) regional publishers offer an effective online offering for those readers who want to browse their news online (don’t forget, we live in a society of choice).

    For too long, the media groups have bemoaned the fact that the market is dispersed and that you can’t get at it in one swoop because the factories don’t kick out at the same time etc so you can’t sell papers to a mass group. But by offering digital delivery effectively, you can target readers who may reside within your locality but be outside of it because of work etc at the time of sale. Simple, but requires thinking that rips up the rule book of traditional print. Unfortunately, regional publishers spend too much time trying to hold back the tide to try something innovative.

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