Times Paywall - Will it take the shine off for PR’s and is this a new community.

Posted by Joe Walton on 14/05/2010

TheTimes.co.uk homepage

(Picture: Behind the paywall (from @TomWhitwell)

While we don't think free news on the internet will ever completely vanish, from 1st of June, the Times and Sunday Times go behind a paywall.

Here are the condensed facts:

  • The Times and Sunday Times will go behind a paywall in June.
  • The latest figures show that The Times sells 500,000 copies a day and receives 1.2m different individuals per day accessing the online site 
  • Content will no longer be available for free
  • The cost is £1 for a daily copy, £2 for a weeks access, existing7 day  subscribers will get automatic access
  • The site will use more interactive elements and exclusive videos (something to think about when preparing stories)
  • Access will through a redesigned homepage and layout structure, an Iphone app is one the way. 

Many people think the paywall system is doomed from the start. Either way one of the UK's oldest and most prestigious news outlets is using one and we have to adapt the advice we give to clients now the internet has grown as important news source for many people.

The Times is still the best selling quality daily in the UK and more than worth its weight in PR terms but it throws up a few interesting questions.

Newspapers like and exclusive, they want to give their readers something they can't get anywhere else. In PR if we have a strong exclusive story how do we choose who to offer it to. In the past few years if it was strong enough for the Times and it was right for the campaigns it was often the first option. Will this remain if Google news can't send people to the story or if people can't link to it, share it and comment on it. There are ways around this using other channels that will still meet the criteria for an exclusive arrangement but does it make it The Times a less attractive option?

Of course there is an upside, investigative pieces from The Times stable may have less traction on social networks. It will be interesting to see if all content stays behind the paywall and what they will do to entice new readers.

Another piece of information about the site that I think could be important is the enclosed community the paywall will create:

  • Readers Real Names will be used instead of user names. Anonymity could be regarded as a right on the internet. However, because The Times is essentially a closed network of subscribers, they have created light social network around their brand. Also because media choice is based around beliefs, political leanings and interests they can be comfortable that their comments will be likely met by sympathetic ear. While commenting is likely to decrease (certainly in the short term), the quality and reciprocation of ideas may increase.  
  • In addition they plan debates and Q and A sessions with journalists. While many publications have tried this in public, behind the paywall they will have slightly different feel and because readers subscribe to take part they have exclusive access to opinion formers.

There are many details still to emerge, non more important than how the search engines will deal with the content and how the News International will deal with people coping and posting content across the web but it is an interesting test for what will be a enticing model for many publishers. 

Details thanks to journalism.co.uk.

Edit - thoughts about the community are echoed in this post by Adam Tinworth.

Existing comments

Looks interesting!

By Matthew Lanham on 2010 05 16

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About the Author

Joe Walton is a consultant at Real PR and Secretary of the CIPR Scotland. His main interests sit between communications, psychology and technology.

You can follow him on multiple social networks including twitter and Google+.


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