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Publisher’s paywall trial to aid investment in ‘high-quality’ journalism

Seven sister newspapers have become the latest regional news titles to introduce a pay-as-you-read online paywall.

Iliffe Media papers the Stamford Mercury, Grantham Journal, Newark Advertiser, Lynn News and Fenland Citizen have announced the move on their websites, along with the Spalding Today site, which hosts content from the Spalding Guardian and Lincolnshire Free Press.

The switch will allow readers to continue using the sites without taking out a subscription, although selected articles will now only be made available for a 20p fee.

Those reading more than three fee-charging articles in a week will have access to all premium content, which will be clearly marked.

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Other content, including breaking news, will remain free to read online.

Editorial director Ian Carter said: “We chose these titles after assessing the various marketplaces across our portfolio.

“We are fortunate that our all titles have strong brand recognition, and this is particularly the case in the Lincolnshire area which includes the UK’s oldest newspaper, the Stamford Mercury.

“It’s an experiment and we will obviously be looking at what we learn over the coming weeks and months before deciding on our next steps.

“One thing that we have always been clear about is that we believe in continuing to invest in quality journalism, and that investment will always go hand in hand with the need to explore paid content models.”

The Axate system is already used by titles including the Newbury Weekly News, which moved to a similar system online last month, and Cornwall Reports.

Richard Parkinson, managing director of Iliffe Media Midlands, said: “Our titles have been proudly serving their local communities since 1700s.

“We are determined to ensure we are still doing so long into the future, with our readers firmly at the centre of everything we do.

“By charging a small amount for certain premium articles, we can invest more in high-quality local journalism that our readers value so highly – and ultimately it makes us even more accountable to our readers.”

12 comments

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  • August 15, 2019 at 9:20 am
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    How about not putting content online at all? Seems to work for Private Eye.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 9:41 am
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    Good luck with that one!

    Paywalls for regional papers are a complete non starter, they don’t work and will simply turn existing users away.

    Expecting people to pay for ‘ premium content’ in an age when paid for newspaper sales are at all time lows and falling further by the week,and when local news is readily available on dozens of other sites and via local media for free smacks of desperation,arrogance or naivety.

    Monetising the business is the responsibility of the advertising team and if they can’t sell the site inventory now on a free to view local news site,they certainly won’t be able to sell it once a paywall is put in place.

    If you need to fund journalism maybe consider reducing the profit expectations and the salaries and bonuses for middle and upper management staff rather than passing your costs on to the end user.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 9:43 am
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    Typo
    S/be; ‘Social media sites’
    not ‘local media sites’

    Apologies

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  • August 15, 2019 at 10:03 am
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    If paywalls had any chance of being introduced successfully, it should have been done years ago, when the digital ‘revolution’ was just taking off and newspapers were still quality products which were respected by their communities. Fast forward to now, when papers’ relevance in a market place dominated by free content is deteriorating (in most cases) by the day and it becomes blindingly obvious, except to those who are trying to find signs of life in a massive car crash, that this ship sailed long since. I wish these titles the very best of luck. They, along with the rest of us still left, are going to need it.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 10:46 am
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    I shall be getting all my Fenland news from the Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard sites in future.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 11:09 am
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    RichardIII – You are right that it’s going to take a lot to persuade people to pay for online content, and you’re also right people have had it for free for so long that it will be hard to shift that perception.
    This isn’t about expecting to suddenly generate transformational online revenues, it’s about putting a marker down that says in the long term journalism needs to be funded. What we have found so far is that enough people ARE prepared to pay to give us a lot of encouragement.
    As an industry, we shouldn’t be shy of saying our reporters should be paid, in the same way we shouldn’t be shy of defending our journalists against the serial moaners.
    I have recently seen some excellent editors like Samantha Harman in Oxford hitting back at people who infest their comment sections, continually slagging off the website and her reporters whilst happily reading it all for free. What other industry would give away their core product and also fund a platform for people to moan about it?
    As for the ship having sailed, not necessarily so. Look at the revenue generated by 50 people paying to read a story compared to the advertising revenue from 5,000 looking at it for free and it becomes a model worth considering.
    Personally I’d rather have smaller, loyal readerships than thousands of people from Facebook with no relationship with our websites or papers.
    Media Pundit – I don’t buy into that at all. You can’t exclude the majority of people who want to read news on a screen if you want a business fit for the future. Nor can you compare Private Eye to a local newspaper.
    Employee X, that’s a pretty naive assessment of the marketplace and indeed the industry in my opinion.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 11:27 am
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    Ian – I totally agree with you, as I suspect at least 90 per cent of people on this site will. That’s why I hope it works. What I don’t agree with (and indeed despair about), is the lack of foresight shown by management when the web first started to expand. Instead of hooking up to it and seeing where it went, management sat back and convinced themselves it was going to be a passing fad, something like skateboarding or clackers. Their attitude has helped the industry get itself into the hopeless mess it is today. My feeling is trying to persuade the public, or at least the majority of them, to pay for something when they’ve been used to getting it online for nowt is going to meet with serious resistance. I sincerely hope you have the loyal readers to make this work, but my opinion – based on observation, not serial moaning – is that you have a long, hard road ahead of you.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 11:32 am
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    I agree with that too, although I think it’s harsh to judge people making those decisions too harshly as I don’t think anyone could really have predicted the seismic changes we’ve all faced in the past decade.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 1:36 pm
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    Ian. Most of the reporters are not paid. They are the contributors who help fill about half of weekly papers.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 3:40 pm
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    Iliffes ‘premium content’ will need to be hugely appealing and vastly improved from the normal local output if they intend putting paywalls in place to access it, certainly if the dire offering by The Lynn News is anything to go by.

    Had the top brass not been complacent and recognised the real threat yet huge opportunity which unique digital news content presented and charged for it when print sales began to slide,then the public would be used to paying a little to gain access to local online news items.
    However, giving it away and then suddenly asking for payment indicates a lack of
    other more credible ideas and is the equivalent of putting the cover price up when all other revenue generating options have failed.

    No regional publisher is successfully monetising via a paywall for one good reason, not enough people will pay to read what they can get elsewhere for free ,the model simply doesn’t work

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  • August 15, 2019 at 4:05 pm
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    @Phillip – I would be flabbergasted if these titles put a paywall around stories they knew people could get elsewhere free. That would be stupid. The point of this exercise is to put paywalls around things people *can’t* get elsewhere free.

    @Employee X – The 1980s and 90s are gone. Those halcyon days are never coming back. Something has to be done and this is, at least, a step towards something that could work. Suggesting that sales teams should simply sell more to solve the problem is the sort of idea that keeps the industry in its current malaise.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 4:33 pm
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    @UGC
    If you read my opening par;
    “ Iliffes ‘premium content’ will need to be hugely appealing and vastly improved from the normal local output if they intend putting paywalls in place to access it…”
    the point being made is the importance of making this ‘premium content’ of sufficient interest for people to pay for it, however without knowing how good or otherwise this premium material is they have only the current content to go by which, on the sites I’ve seen, is poor.

    Whether they choose to pay or not depends on just how unique, well written and of interest the extra content is but without access to it first, even part of an article such as the national paid for sites present, it’s a gamble one I feel very few people will be prepared to take.

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