Why we'll all be behind paywalls before too long

Looking like a no-brainer.

If declining print newspapers don’t find a way to monetise their growing digital audiences they will go out of business, it’s as simple as that.

Luckily, there appears to be a way to do that which – in the words of one media analyst – has “no downside”.

The saviour of journalism could be the paywall, or to be more precise – the metered paywall – a tactic pioneered by the FT in 2007 when it started limiting free access to 8 articles per month.

Because the vast majority of web readers flit in just once or twice a month to news websites, a metered paywall is a way of making money out of the most loyal ones while retaining a higher overall volume of traffic.

The metered paywall also offers new readers ample opportunity to sample your content and means your site can still be shared and promoted via social media and Google.

The early evidence from Telegraph Media Group is that if you set the meter high enough, in its case at 20 articles a month, the paywall has little impact at all on your overall traffic.

According to ABC, in April (its first full month with the paywall in place) Telegraph.co.uk attracted just over 3m ‘unique browsers’ a day, up 30 per cent year on year. This was a faster rate of growth than the still completely free Guardian on 4.8m a day, up 23 per cent.

The FT now has more than 328,000 paying digital subscribers versus a paid-for print circulation of around 240,000.

Two years ago the New York Times limited free website access to 10 free articles per month. By the end of last year its subscriber numbers had reached 640,000.

At the start of this year Andrew Sullivan put his US-based blog The Dish behind a metered paywall (with seven stories a month free). So far the new model has brought in gross revenue of $680,000. Not bad for a site with a staff of seven (plus two interns).

The question appears to be now not why have a paywall, but why not?

Mail Online and The Guardian are the only UK newspaper websites which attract more traffic than the Telegraph.

With a still profitable newspaper to back it up, Mail Online can afford to wait a little longer and see how much further its global traffic can rocket (according to ABC it attracted 120m ‘unique browsers’ in April).

The Guardian needs the money more (in the year to the end of March 2012 it made a loss of £44.2m). But like Mail Online, its focus is currently on building as big a global web audience as it possibly can (it attracted 82m global ‘unique browsers’ in April).

The Sun goes behind a total paywall as of 1 August (joining The Times and Sunday Times).

The Independent and Mirror Group are the other major national newspaper website players and (like the Mail and Guardian) they remain completely free for the present.

But I suspect it still only a matter of time before all the major news websites in the commercial sector adopt some form of paywall. Because on the early evidence from the Telegraph, it is looking like a no-brainer.

Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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