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.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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