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‘No alternative’ to online paywall says regional daily editor

James Mitchinson newA regional daily editor says he will have to put up a paywall on its website because he does not think there is an “alternative” option.

James Mitchinson, left, has stated his belief that the Yorkshire Post will have to ask readers of its website to contribute financially.

James made the remarks in an interview with the Financial Times about the work of the Leeds-based Post, which averages more than 60,000 daily unique users online according to figures published in February.

Post owner JPIMedia has introduced paywalls, either on a permanent or trial basis, at titles including Sheffield daily The Star, Blackpool daily The Gazette and Portsmouth daily The News in recent months.

In May, James himself launched a consultation with readers over what would make them “be prepared to back our journalism with your own hard-earned money”.

The Post introduced online registration for readers last year in a move designed to prevent the use of ad-blocking software, with James justifying the move on the grounds that the paper’s “high quality journalism” needed to be paid for.

He told the FT: “We will have to ask readers to contribute financially. I do not think there is an alternative.”

Speaking to HTFP, he added: “I honestly believe good journalism undertaken for the betterment of a given place and people is worth paying for.”

Audience measurement company PAMCo recognised the YP earlier this year as the most trusted newspaper in the country.

The paywall model implemented at The Gazette and the News allows readers to access five free articles a week before being asked to subscribe, with a £2 a week subscription offering them unlimited access to articles.

The FT also reported JPIMedia editorial director Jeremy Clifford as saying the model had been “well received by our readers”, adding the company was planning on introducing paywalls to other titles in the coming months.

However the company, which is currently up for sale, declined to reveal which titles are being considered when approached by HTFP.

30 comments

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  • October 15, 2019 at 9:23 am
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    Good. And now we’ll see the stupidity of the newspaper bosses when online ‘readership’ figures drop. Not singling out the YP for this, but the whole practice.
    Newspapers, or any business, can’t survive by giving away product for free.
    Moves like a paywall will require a sensible rethink to see the future model of newspapers and journalism in the UK. So many have been going round with their heads in the clouds for too long. Maybe long needed investment in journalism might follow. Or papers disappearing completely.
    I hope the former.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 9:36 am
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    The publications that have made paywalls work are the ones with the best content. As ABCs continue to plummet, paywalls are the next logical step. The problem is local newspapers have traditionally put all their content free online and wondered why their newspaper sales have fallen off the edge of a cliff. Paywalls are harder to introduce retrospectively. The Yorkshire Post has a strong tradition of excellent journalism and it’s 100 per cent right that the work of journalists is valued. Good luck James.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 10:15 am
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    The YP is still operating like a newspaper should as it has been protected from the level of cuts experienced elsewhere in JPI, so it maybe could lose a load of online readers and make enough from those who do subscribe to continue as it currently does. What this does flag up though is the fact that hundreds of thousands of clicks daily doesn’t bring in advertising revenues. If it did, publishers would be delighted to stay free to view. The problem with paywalls is when papers have been decimated through cost cutting there is no quality journalism left and thereby nothing to sell. When JPI says “the model has been well received by our readers” does that figure equate to about a dozen?

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  • October 15, 2019 at 10:39 am
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    Publishers have been trying to monetise online content for ten-15 years and they have nothing to show for it. Newspapers turned a profit because, by-and-large, they exploited local monopolies for readership and advertising. Digital journalism is at a massive disadvantage when the competition is global. What does it say about the business acumen of those in charge when they are still convinced digital is the future despite years and years of evidence to the contrary?

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  • October 15, 2019 at 11:14 am
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    “ ….been well received by our readers”
    Has it though?
    can he give numbers of subscribers already signed up?
    Forecast of the number by year end?
    Is there a tipping point when it becomes financially viable or not viable to continue due to lost reader traffic from those content with their 5 free reads and not prepared to pay for anything more?
    or is this all just a case of the kings new clothes, trying to justify a decision already made long before the token tick box gesture of asking the public?

    I’m sure we all accept giving the content away for nowt was not the way forward but once the genies out of the bottle expecting people to pay for news just isn’t going to happen in the numbers they’ll need to make it pay its own way or to be profitable.

    My view with over 25 years in print and 11 in digital is paywalls work well for the nationals with their consistently high level of quality and engaging content by the best journalists, columnists and photographers and the standard of the informative and intelligent long form articles but it’s simply not practical for regional titles.

    Having already lost the traditional paid for print buying audience can publishers afford to risk losing their digital audience too?

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  • October 15, 2019 at 12:11 pm
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    The final nail in the coffin for local digital news. Readers won’t pay and advertisers won’t advertise. The management have been unbelievably stupid and stubborn. Digital will never pay but the relentless drive to force it on readers has left print in tatters and it will be hard to save it. Print wasn’t dying it was being murdered by greedy but stupid bosses. It wasn’t broken yet the fools tried to fix it. After 10+ years trying to monetise digital they have completely failed. So therefore digital is as useful as a chocolate teapot. Unfortunately hundreds of once proud papers have been turned into low circulation rags. Thousands of journalists and photographers have been thrown on the scrap heap and the newspaper industry is in a sorry mess, a self inflicted mess by the stupid, greed bosses. I now declare digital to be a total failure and anyone who is still flogging the dead digital horse is either a fool or insane.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 12:13 pm
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    This might be a good idea but it doesn’t really work. I visited the Yorkshire Post website. While I was there I read five pieces. All were well done, so congratulations to the YP for being a cut above most. I tried reading a 6th piece and the website told me to sign up if I wanted to read more. All as expected so far, and no problems with that, but I then closed the browser and relaunched it. I could then read more pieces – which were also well done. The paywall idea may be sound, but more work is needed if the “wall” is to have teeth.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 1:11 pm
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    Either shut the website down totally or just keep a front page telling people how to subscribe and providing a link for them to do so immediately. Guess what, if the content’s not free, they’ll have to buy the paper.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 1:22 pm
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    The quality of most regionals and weeklies is just not good enough to persuade people to pay. The top quality journos who might have made it work have long ridden off into the sunset and the enthusiasm of keen but green young reporters is not enough to fill the gap.
    But paywalls would at least end the current unhealthy situation, where newspapers sell in pathetic numbers and most websites are too poor to make money. If paywalls flop then owners will have a huge decision to make. Ditch print entirely, or ditch digital . But at least do one of them well instead of doing both badly.
    Bring on the paywalls and let the public decide.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 1:29 pm
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    Speaking to HTFP, he (James Mitchinson) added: “I honestly believe good journalism undertaken for the betterment of a given place and people is worth paying for.”

    All he has to do now is to convince the thousands of readers who have abandoned his paper in recent years that they should put their money where their mouse is, and we’ll be sorted.

    Seemples!

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  • October 15, 2019 at 2:04 pm
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    Putting the quality of the journalism to one side for now, the actual presentation of online news is the main impediment to signing up.
    On the site that I use, I am forced to read down through the following:

    Headline, main image with caption, intro. Then a line of social media icons, a subscription box, a video ad which switches to another photo plus caption, followed by the second par.
    Three pars later, another video ad, then three more pars of editorial then the “Related articles” strap, more icons and a block of click-bait ads, tailing off with the Comments.

    And all this squeezed next to advert panels, promotions and slideshows, surrounded by garish wallpaper.
    Breaking up the story in this way is frustrating and not conducive to a good, or indeed quick, read and impossible on a mobile phone.

    The journalism may be great but I don’t have the patience to find out.

    So anything “designed to prevent the use of ad-blocking software . . . on the grounds that the paper’s ‘high quality journalism’ needed to be paid for” is counter productive

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  • October 15, 2019 at 2:49 pm
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    As ever, it is such an educational experience browsing the comments on HTFP.
    It is truly a tragedy that the brains behind such manifest wisdom were so restricted in their careers and not given the opportunity to displace the moronic managements.
    Just imagine if The Dead Digital Horse, for one, had been given free rein (pun intended) to implement his no-digital strategy at exactly the moment the entire western hemisphere’s readership habits were switching inexorably and irreversibly to digital.
    Newspapers could have gone out of business quickly and quietly; their dignity intact, instead of all these desperate efforts to adopt the technology of the future!
    I’m quite sure The Dead Digital Horse’s great great great great great great great great great grandad was also railing against the adoption of Caxton’s new-fangled printing press, which was another ridiculous strategy perpetrated by idiot executives on their hard-working and talented calligrapher monks.
    Fools, I tell you! Fools!

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  • October 15, 2019 at 3:22 pm
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    And so, after ten years and millions of pounds in cost-cutting, the bleedin’ obvious dawns – giving away content free on the website is not a sustainable business model. Maybe, just maybe, those newspapers who still have enough news-gathering resources to turn up good stories can make this work but what the last decade has shown is that people are only prepared to pay for high-quality content. Are there enough good regional papers left out there to provide it?

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  • October 15, 2019 at 3:39 pm
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    My JPI weekly is full of charity bumf and this week a local Facebook website has readers lamenting the wasted time sending news in to the office, which is never published.

    The website is hopeless, weeks out of date for basics like court copy, of which there is very little anyway. Would I pay a subscription for this? No, and I don’t think anyone else would either!

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  • October 15, 2019 at 4:00 pm
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    @JimmyMac… I am not as you infer a Luddite. Calling me that is a feeble attempt to deflect away from the facts. The fact that digital weekly news does not pay. It can’t be ignored. Print is being slowly murdered but the preferred replacement isn’t the slightest bit fit for purpose. Jimmy Mac I’m being realistic not obstructive. I am not a Luddite just a realist. You are I think the opposite of a Luddite. Super keen to make something work that just won’t work. Digital works for many things but not for local weekly news, unless you want to operate as a non profit organisation. Digital Dosent Pay, prove to me how it does. Anyone know what the opposite of a Luddite is. My description is foolish crazy optomist.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 4:17 pm
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    @The Dead Digital Horse sounds the type of person who would open food banks in every town and village then wonder why the major supermarkets start closing down.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 4:18 pm
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    Apologies @The Dead Digital Horse, my comment was, of course, aimed at JimmyMac.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 4:47 pm
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    The future of journalism should not be seen as either/or. Newspaper buyers are not the same as digital consumers. Those who read print publications are (in general) older, better educated, home owners, civically involved etc but publishers have decided to target the under-40s. The problem is, that while this age group is technologically savvy, they DON’T READ local news in anything like the numbers needed. Instead of cutting back on print, both traditional and digital media should run in parallel.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 4:53 pm
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    @digitaldeadhorrse

    I don’t know whether you are a luddite or not, but you are laughably binary when you assess the media landscape of today. How do you account for the most-read printed newspaper in the country (Metro) being free and massively profitable, proving that large scale of audience can equate to profit? How do you account for profitable digital-only content sites the world over? Do you really mean to suggest that the only format for local news is print? What kind of future do you imagine then when print becomes totally redundant?
    Whether you’re a luddite or not is immaterial. But you and many of your like-minded chums are certainly hopelessly short-sighted and trapped in a past when all you had to do to make money as a local newspaper was be there – because the competition the industry faces today did not exist!
    I’ll bet you’re also one of the lucky ones who has a generous fixed salary pension? If so, I hope you understand the additional financial pressures that creates for the people who followed you? Correct me if I’m wrong.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 5:00 pm
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    Blimey! seems like someone’s hit one of old @JimmyMacs nerves.
    Perhaps it was the Freudian use of ‘moronic management ‘ or ‘idiot executives’ which was a little too close to home?

    @MediaPundit a good analogy, I’ll bet he’s fun at parties too
    …. or in board meetings ; )

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  • October 15, 2019 at 5:04 pm
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    @Employee X

    Maybe you could counter my points instead of making witless ad hominem attacks? 😉

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  • October 15, 2019 at 5:11 pm
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    I’ll be astounded if this delivers anything more than a few quid.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 5:27 pm
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    I’m a journalist.
    I’m a believer in journalism.
    I’m a believer in newspapers, online or in print.
    But the quality has largely gone, with the talented writers, photographers and subs who have been sacrificed in the name of profit. It never had anything to do with the internet, just over-borrowing to purchase titles, a need to pay the shareholders oodles of money and play at breaking news.
    BBC and the Mail Online are both free to read and peruse, but they invested money in people – whether the spin, the content or whatever they do is your thing or not.
    The traditional newspaper groups have cut. Print is dead, because of them, but online has been badly introduced, badly reinvented and badly staffed.
    Heralding great online traffic is great, but not making money.
    Hence papers considering paywalls.
    The challenge will be to see how many sign up.
    The horse may well have bolted, or been slapped out of the stable by the bosses.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 5:28 pm
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    @JimmyMac..You don’t really have any points that make sense. The proof is out there. The Metro example is off point. I never said that free newspapers can’t pay. The likes of the Metro survive and prosper on advertising something digital will never do. Put out a good product and people will buy it. Use LOCAL reporters and photographers and truly cover LOCAL news and events and people will buy it. Just because digital is the latest thing dosen’t mean it works for everything. Get real and accept that after 10-15 years it’s imply not working and it aint gonna work. Until we come up with a viable alternative to the wheel then the wheel is the only workable solution. Yes the net is a competitor to print in many ways but Print is still the only thing that can make money unlike digital. If I were an advertiser I wouldn’t want to have my ad micro sized or popping up on a small phone screen.

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  • October 15, 2019 at 5:34 pm
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    @MediaPundit…Thanks I thought that.
    Further on my ‘Latest Thing’ comment… I am pushing 60. Skinny jeans are the latest thing (relatively) but me wearing them will never see me pulling a twentysomething woman. Just like local digital news it dosent work. Did no-one ever tell you Everything on the net is FREE (except E-Bay and Amazon).

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  • October 15, 2019 at 5:38 pm
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    @JimmyMac…NO i don’t have a final salary pension. I am forced to freelance and take my pension. I worked for JP and know their digital strategy. It hasnt worked for 10+ years. And it WON’T. So swallow your disappointment and buy your local paper.

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  • October 16, 2019 at 10:31 am
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    I hope they do implement a paywall as this will leave the field open even more for enterprising new independent publishers to pick up the print markets being cast aside as the bigger,yet ailing groups ,go in search of the elusive digital dollar and attempt to monetise digital news, something they’ve been trying to do for a couple of decades already with very little success.

    Personally I believe most people will be content to read the 5 free items on line but unwilling to part with money to read the extra ‘exclusive content’ when there’s enough good quality free local news available and out there already.

    There is no brand loyalty these days and we are all used to multi sourcing our news from various sites rather than sticking to just one provider as was the norm when publishers had the local news monopoly years ago so asking readers to pay to access additional items is ambitious to say the least.

    Meanwhile in towns and cities across the uk new independent publishers are building their businesses by producing grass roots hyper local community newspapers, usually free,on territories once deemed exclusive to the likes of JPI and Archant. They’re growing audiences by reaching out to people used to a local weekly paper and maximising revenues by appealing to businesses used to advertising in print but unconvinced by the online option.
    For these communities print is very much alive and thriving.

    Time will tell but when online engagement is deemed a valuable commodity it could be very costly if this paywall turns more people off than it converts to subscribers.

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  • October 16, 2019 at 12:01 pm
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    To me, the interest in news has become more global as the internet has made the world a smaller place, hence local news stories are of less interest to the majority than they were 20 years ago. Unless my age has something to do with my more global view. I live in a very rural area, so ‘local’ news is at least ten miles away, perhaps it’s different in a town.

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  • October 16, 2019 at 3:13 pm
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    Wandering through my local supermarket and the massive display of magazines is proof positive that print media is far from dead. Magazines are targeted towards specific audiences and usually backed up by cutdown free online versions that drive people to buy the mag. Newspapers are also targeted towards specific audiences too – people who want relevant, interesting stories and opinion to read. Imagine suggesting to a magazine publisher that digital is the only way forward, even with paid subscriptions?

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  • October 17, 2019 at 4:20 pm
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    That’s a good point ‘ElectricPics’
    Sadly I feel the interest in print has long gone from all the main regional press groups as they throw everything into the desperate quest to monetise digital news.
    Magazines are generally stand alone entities with their own editorial teams,editors,the best sales people and the most talented designers.
    Certainly the county lifestyle ones I see, produced by my local publisher, have good focussed content and are well designed and presented, they are also one of the few relative successes in that group.

    Complete focus and quality hyper specific content will never go out of fashion and is something people are prepared to pay good money for and where advertising commands a premium rate,something those chasing digital revenue would do well to bear in mind.

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