Here’s the problem with the Times paywall

In the link economy, can you really afford not to play?

Paul Waugh, deputy political editor of the London Evening Standard and one of the UK's most well-read political bloggers, has stumbled upon one of the big problems with the paywall News International is putting around its flagship titles, the Times and the Sunday Times.

Waugh writes today about the Education Secretary Michael Gove's "love affair" with his ministerial red box and the fact that those red boxes really do have their own chauffeur-driven cars. It's an enteraining piece, and much of it comes from this morning's Times and a column by Sarah Vine, Michael's other half. Waugh cites the piece, but before he does so he notes:

Here's Sarah (it's behind the Times's new paywall so sorry for lack of a link) today:

So the Times is still providing great source material but getting none of the traffic.

News International may argue that the audience it does retain behind the paywall -- estimated at just 10 per cent of the existing one -- will be more valuable to potential advertisers, and more lucrative to a publisher as a consequence. Not necessarily.

According to a straw poll of media buyers who were asked by trade magazine Campaign (and reported by the Guardian) whether the Times titles will gain a greater yield per advert from their subscribers, half said "maybe"; the other half said "no".

Other titles, notably the Wall Street Journal (proprietor: Rupert Murdoch), have found a way to have their online cake and eat it. The WSJ has one million paid subscribers but 21 million unique users per month -- a neat trick that involves giving limited monthly access to non-subscribers (a trick that the Financial Times has aped). The benefit?

  • Passing readers can be sold the benefits of a subscription
  • A larger number of banners and sky scrappers can be served
  • The newspaper can still play an active part in the social media conversation

Somewhere between New York and London, Murdoch seems to have forgotten the validity of these arguments.

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Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.