Telegraph institutes paywall overseas

Is the paper abdicating US growth in favour of a quick buck?

The Guardian's Josh Halliday reports that the Telegraph has launched a paywall for online readers based outside of the UK:

Telegraph.co.uk is moving to a metered paywall model similar to the New York Times on Thursday after years of planning. The new payment system was introduced at 12.00 GMT according to an internal email seen by MediaGuardian.

The site will remain free for UK users, but overseas visitors will be asked to pay £1.99 for a month's access after viewing the site 20 times.

The move has been in the pipeline at Telegraph Media Group for more than two years. It has been hit by continued delays and has been hampered by the departure of several key executives.

62 per cent of the Telegraph's readership is from overseas, so there is a considerable amount at stake here. Nonetheless, the move feels like an abdication of sorts for the paper, which remains one of the most consistently profitable in the UK.

In charging the £2 a month to international readers, the paper is attempting to monetize its large overseas base; but the fact that that paywall is not going up domestically makes it apparent that the leadership fear falling prey to the same fate as the Times, which has struggled to stay relevant in the national conversation when it can only be read by subscribers.

If the Telegraph is treating its overseas readership as a fixed quantity, that decision makes sense; and anecdotal evidence suggests that the paper is especially popular amongst expatriates, who will already have that relationship before they enter the paywall.

Nonetheless, the strategy is in stark contrast to papers like the Guardian and Mail, which treat their overseas readership as a potential source of significant growth. The Guardian takes the exact opposite approach to the Telegraph, charging for UK tablet readers while offering the same content up for free in the US, while the Mail has piling resources into its US branch, and has made a name for itself providing the sort of celebrity content which US newspapers have little expertise in.

If there is a precursor for what the Telegraph is doing, it's the Independent, which also started to charge US users a small paywall after they read more than 20 articles a month.

Unfortunately, the Independent's move wasn't particularly successful. PaidContent's Robert Andrews writes:

While Independent.co.uk’s domestic UK audience has jumped by 75 percent during the period, its Rest-Of-World traffic (dominated by the US) has grown by just 5.5 percent.

Leonard acknowledges overseas audiences “don’t necessarily stick”, but “advertising has flourished for us in North America so we’d like that to continue”.

“So we’re creating new reasons to engage with us,” Leonard tells Journalism.co.uk. “If we were the New York Times, and had a real following, particularly a subscription-based audience, I think we might have a different view on that.”

If the Telegraph gets it right, they could have a nice little income; but even the best case scenario is that they have sacrificed the chance of growing their future audience for a payday now. That may still be a prudent move; but it's also the safe one.

A notable Telegraph cover. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war