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Johnston Press dropping its paywall says nothing about the Times’s plans

March 31, 2010 3 Comments

Johnston Press is dropping the paywall on its local papers, with the number of subscribers said to be in single figures. People have already started to draw conclusions from this:

  • "The conclusion is clear - charging for local news online is something of a no-go." (Paid Content)
  • Rupert Murdoch: "he’s on to a surefire loser." (Bitter wallet).

However, my view is that the Johnston Press experiment tells us precisely nothing about anything. The reason? Johnston Press had implemented its paywall in the worst way possible. All you can learn from this is that a paywall that makes no attempt to sell the content won't sell any subscriptions.

Why Johnston Press's paywall was rubbish

Here's an example of its former paywall (ie what you saw when you tried to read an article).

 Northumberland Gazette paywall

Northumberland Gazette paywall

As I've pointed out before in my paywall review, this was rubbish.

It used jargon, describing itself as "premium content", and failed to explain the benefits of subscription. With this particular paper, they described themselves as "the n/a site". As far as I am aware, this bug was never fixed during the whole four month paywall experiment.

How to implement a paywall properly

I won't rehash my paywall review, which had good and bad examples. But let's see what Rupert Murdoch's been doing since I wrote that.

The Times

Here's the current information about the coming paywall for the Times:

Times paywall info

Times paywall info

And the Sunday Times:

Sunday Times paywall info

Sunday Times paywall info

Altogether more engaging and attempting to sell the content - unlike the Johnston Press example.

South Coast Today: a paywall in action

And here's a paywall in operation at another one of Rupert Murdoch's papers, South Coast Today. Here's what you see once you've hit the 10-article limit:

South Coast Today paywall

South Coast Today paywall

Then you're taken to some screens which explains more. You can choose to register or pay:

South Coast today: register or subscribe

South Coast today: register or subscribe

Not sure of the benefits of subscribing over just registering?

Registration vs subscription compared

Registration vs subscription compared

Interestingly, you can even get the site and paper bundled in one subscription if you live in the right area (note that a subscription to the paper only or the website only cost the same).

Print and web options

Print and web options


These methods of selling people paid subscriptions to websites may not be perfect (I think the South Coast could do a lot better with the box that tells you that you need to subscribe to read more).

But they make a much better fist of it than Johnston Press has.

I wrote in an email at the time Johnston launched its paywall that:

The danger is that a badly executed paywall puts Johnston Press and others off. They could do it SO much better, which would surely improve conversions. All a bad trial tells you is that bad trials don't work ...

And that's my conclusion today. A paywall that doesn't sell the benefits of subscription won't sell anything. And that's all that Johnston Press's experiment has proved.

You might also like
  1. Paywalls: shall we try to make them more attractive than the Berlin Wall?
  2. Behind the Times paywall: 46,154 readers a day
  3. Why the reported Times paywall numbers are meaningless.
  4. The Times paywall – some questions to mull over
  5. Some meaningful numbers on the Times paywall

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  • Robert Andrews says:

    Not to mention - The Times and the Northumberland Gazette are in entirely different markets.

    • True. But I just know people are going to say that JP's paywall didn't work so paywalls can't work (enough people slammed the experiment before it even started).

      But I think all they've really failed at is elementary web usability and marketing ... that and thinking about what sort of local information people might be willing to pay for. (Not cats, that's for sure).

  • James Garner says:

    I agree with your argument that the implementation of pay wall at Johnston Press was so bad that it tells us nothing about anything. However, I still don't believe that a pay wall will work for Murdoch, however well they implement it (and the examples you give are far better!). My view is that this is the wrong solution to increasing the profitability of newspapers, its old traditional thinking and disregards new opportunities for a protectionist how ever well you design and implement and sell your pay wall, it ain't going to work.

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