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Sunday, July 04, 2010

An open letter to Rupert Murdoch on the erection of the Times paywall

Dear Rupert

I know you've been waiting to hear what I think about the reality of The Times and Sunday Times being behind a paywall. Fair enough. I don't expect you take much notice of much of the hot air this has generated in the blogosphere but, hey, us press barons must stick together.

Obviously, I'd love to see your pay plan work because the alternative is cloud cuckoo land. The idea that this news-for-free shemozzle is all going to work out OK at some unspecified point in the future is as transparent a nonsense as has ever been peddled by grown adults to other grown adults. This is a rum revolution we're going through and no mistake. For a start there are no revolutionaries. There are just a load of salaried employees being paid to spend other people's money until it runs out. There's no end of freeloading end users who haven't got a clue how close that is to happening. Finally there's a bunch of academics standing on the sidelines shouting for more money to be hurled on the bonfire. It's only people like you and, to an extent so minuscule as to be invisible, me who have got any skin in this particular game. So, Rupe (may I call you Rupe?) I'd love to see it work and to that end you'll be personally relieved to learn that I've signed up, paid my footling pound, handed over my credit card details and waited to see how it feels to be a paying customer of a web site. It's only been 48 hours but already I feel something.

I feel The Guardian should have done it first. The Guardian would have been in a stronger position to charge because its core readers think everyone else is lying to them and their choice of paper is an announcement of who they are. The Guardian would have found it quite easy to say, pay for this site or the armies of the night will triumph. But they didn't. They're over there watching with interest with their fingers crossed so tightly it's cutting off their circulation.

The Times is a paper that covers the same things as The Guardian but is read primarily by people who don't want to read anything written by the people at The Guardian. On the news stand its key strength is what it doesn't have. This is fine on the news stand. It's less valuable in the invisible world of on-line. Once you've paid for admittance to The Times on-line you want to feel your money has bought you access to something less vanilla than the basic editorial proposition of the paper. You also realise that a newspaper (as in the news on paper) has to be a balanced proposition. Little bit of this, bit more of that, not too much of the other. That doesn't apply so much on-line where density is all. At the moment this site feels like a lite bite rather than a rich storehouse of treasure.

What else might it provide? I don't know but I suspect that it's more raw meat, more provocative even intemperate opinion, material that doesn't feel it's been edited to fit a half-page gap, lots more photos and a lot more edge than we're getting at the moment.

You of all people, Rupes baby, will be aware that the newspaper that's currently running away with it on-line is the Daily Mail and that while your home page right now is rotating a number of nice-to-read "top stories" including Nadal winning Wimbledon, how the market might behave tomorrow, MI5 looking for Russian sleepers and the latest goings on in the Coalition, the Mail is clearly leading on a must-read story whose headline - "Fugitive bouncer who gunned down ex-lover and her boyfriend taunts police with 999 call after shooting officer in in unprovoked attack" - seems to be longer than half the stories on your site.

Still, as you would no doubt say, it's early days and I'm sure we'll see more real change in the next few weeks as the site responds to the reality of the marketplace than we've seen in the last few years. I shall be watching with interest. If you need any more advice, you know where to find me.