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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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad