1 November 2014

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Daily editor asks for readers’ views on online paywalls

A regional daily editor has urged readers to voice their views on online paywalls, warning that the current free-for-all is “unsustainable”.

Kevin Ward, editor of the South Wales Argus, said he had “no doubt” that the existing business model of charging for print editions but not online news was financially unviable in the longer-term.

In a blog post, he predicted that all newspapers would soon charge for access to their websites, but also asked readers to send him their views.

It comes after CN Group chief executive Robin Burgess signalled plans to set up online paywalls for his regional and local titles, which include the North West Evening Mail and the Cumberland News.

The Argus is owned by Newsquest whose US parent firm Gannett has increased the number of newspaper sites with paywalls from six to 78 over the past year.

National dailies the Daily Telegraph and The Sun announced earlier this year that they would adopt the metered-paywall approach of the New York Times, which allows readers a certain number of free stories before being required to pay.

Kevin said he believed arguments against paywalls which claim readers will simply go elsewhere for their news did not apply to local papers.

“At some point in the not-too-distant future I believe all newspapers will charge for access to their websites,” he said

In his blog post, Kevin asked Argus readers to get in touch with him directly to tell him whether they would be willing to pay for their local news, and if not, why not.

He said:  “There is a cost to producing news. Therefore it must have a value. That is basic economics.

“Who else produces local news about the area covered by the Argus? Who else produces what the Swansea Evening Post does, or the Wrexham Evening Leader?”

“If you spend money on producing something – whether that be news or nuts and bolts – and if there is a demand for it then it should have a price.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the current business model for newspapers, like the Argus, that allow free access to the bulk of their editorial content online is unsustainable in the long term.

“How can we continue to charge readers for a printed copy of our newspaper but allow them to read much of its content for free online?”

Speaking at the Society of Editors’ Regional Conference in the West Midlands earlier this week, Robin told industry leaders that newspapers could not continue giving content away online for free.

He said while he had not decided when a paywall would be introduced at his titles, he was “fairly certain” it would happen.

17 Comments

  1. Frank Brown

    He’s probably right about the current business model being unsustainable and I sort of go along with Kevin’s view that if something costs money to product and there is demand for it then there should be a value attached, but newspaper economics are completely different. There has been no value attached to online news to this point and putting a price on it when it’s been free for all these years simply won;t work.

    As for where readers can get their local news from, you’re living in Cloud Cuckoo Land if you think newspapers have kind of exclusive claim on that. I’m sure a very quick Google search would reveal dozens of sites in south Wales or anywhere else where I can find out what’s going on. And does the South Wales Argus really believe its content is produced to such a high standard that people will be willing to pay it? I think Kevin and other newspaper eds are fooling themselves if they think that.

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  2. lensman

    “There is no doubt in my mind that the current business model for newspapers, like the Argus, that allow free access to the bulk of their editorial content online is unsustainable in the long term.
    “How can we continue to charge readers for a printed copy of our newspaper but allow them to read much of its content for free online?”

    Quite right… but the horse has already bolted from the stable. Newspapers are competing against the BBC website who will just lift and rewrite any local content and give it away on their free news pages.

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  3. Dailyman

    Local newspapers currently provide a service that no-one else does. The local BBC websites are shiocking slow and limited for news. When did you last see a BBC reporter in magistrates’ court? How many local websites have enough journalists to provide comprehesnive local coverage. That may change in the future, but for now the websites of local newspapers offer unparalled coverage and that’s the value..

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  4. Neal Butterworth, Dorset

    As a former Newsquest editor, I was part of the company’s push to create websites that generated an audience with a view to the commercial side of the business following up behind to seal the digital deal.
    But while editorial teams succeeded in building successful websites with a rapidly growing audience, the commercial side of the operation froze like rabbits in headlights, believing digital advertising to be the dark arts and its revenue peanuts when compared to print media bonuses.
    The simple idea? As print media revenue fell in the key recruitment, property and motoring sectors, the digital revenue would grow upwards to meet it in the middle.
    The simple truth? It never happened and while newspaper websites are growing in strength and purpose all the time, the revenue attached to it is truly pitiful and advertising departments are still hopelessly trained and motivated to generate the necessary dosh.
    A paywall for regional newspapers? What on earth are you going to sell that people will genuinely need to buy?
    And having given the family jewels away for free for so long, how many of your former readers are going to clamour to pay for the stuff you’re taking away from them?
    Bless you Kevin for caring, but it’s simply too late.

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  5. Kendo Nagasaki

    “When did you last see a BBC reporter in magistrates’ court?”

    When did you last see a local paper reporter in magistrates’ court?

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  6. Neil Hodge

    No one in their right mind would ever pay for local news online – at least not in their current state: people can simply go to the likes of local and central government websites to find the relevant details and see everything firsthand.

    Local newspapers are dead. Up until 10-15 years ago journalists had a monopoly on council and police press releases to regurgitate in print, so people bought them – but the internet and increased public access has changed all that. The way out for local papers is to find interesting stories themselves. However, this requires more than a phone call, so probably not likely.

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  7. Paul

    Why not give it go? The JP trials a few years back seemed quite half-hearted. We could argue the point for years more, or we could just try it. However, there are knock-on effects which never seem to be discussed. I can’t imagine relations with local authorities, police, businesses etc will be improved – they want a maximum audience for their messages after all and it won’t be achieved on a paywalled website. So I’d expect to see them give the BBC and local radio more stories first and even beef up their own websites and Pravda publications. You’re also providing a clear gap in the market for a low-cost rival giving some churned out news and football coverage and hoovering up the lucrative end of the online ad market – restaurant guides and homes.

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  8. richard spencer

    People aren’t buying the printed products so why on earth would anyone think they would pay for online – too little way to late

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  9. Mike Sassi, Stoke-on-Trent

    Kendo – When did I last see a local paper reporter in magistrates’ court? Er… today. And yesterday. And pretty much every day for the previous forty years. What’s more it’s always the same reporter. Step forward, The Sentinel’s magistrates’ court correspondent Di Gibbons. A true professional – and proper local legend.

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  10. Fresh coriander

    Same here kendo. We send a reporter to mags most days and publish every case result in the court register, council tax evaders, TV licence dodgers, vat fraudsters, the lot. Police say they keep more up to date reading the paper’s court coverage than through their own systems. Not saying its the answer to our problems but just showing that proper court coverage is still out there.

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  11. Kendo Nagasaki

    Mike and Coriander, exceptions that prove the rule, I’m afraid.

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  12. Sub Bot

    Surely online revenue comes from online advertising particularly for locals (the model is exactly the same as print). Yes, it’s small at the moment (about 10 per cent of total revenue) but it is slowly growing.
    Will paywalls just drive these advertisers away particularly if the number of online users fall when they are asked to pay?
    Many weekly newspapers don’t cost a penny (hence the news is free) and revenue comes from advertising, so I don’t quite follow Mr Ward’s argument.

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  13. jeremy

    Paywalls will come in, they simply have to as a source of revenue. The key for papers is to produce content (information) that people want and find useful. If we do that properly, market it correctly and make it consistent, people will pay.

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  14. Darren Parkin, Canary Islands

    Give it a go. Then we can all come back in 18 months and discuss where it went wrong.

    Or, just get over the fact that paywalls will not work on newspapers. They will simply drive readers elsewhere.

    Keep hold of the readers and focus efforts on exploring other revenue streams.

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  15. Harold

    I can’t believe what some people write. The evidence is before their eyes – people don’t read and buy newspapers like they used to, and they also do not want to pay for online content. I know it’s obvious, I know it’s not what people want to hear but it is true. That’s what renders any plan meaningless. It’s the sad truth

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  16. Maisie Dobbs

    In response to Frank Brown: “As for where readers can get their local news from, you’re living in Cloud Cuckoo Land if you think newspapers have kind of exclusive claim on that. I’m sure a very quick Google search would reveal dozens of sites in south Wales or anywhere else where I can find out what’s going on.”
    Where on earth do you think these ‘dozens of sites’ carrying local news get their content from? They simply cut and paste it from legitimate newspapers’ websites. They don’t have their own reporters covering stories.Some don’t even have the grace to rework the intro. And no, Kendo Nagasaki – it’s not the exception to see reporters covering courts. Have you ever set foot inside one to check?

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  17. CONFUSED

    No one seems to be concerned about the paywall that the BBC introduced many years ago………………………..the license fee

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