Birmingham Post may go weekly having faced competition from online rivals

August 17, 2009

The Birmingham Post, which has been a daily publication in one of the UK’s biggest cities for the past 152 years, may cease daily publication, the FT reports:

The circulation of the Birmingham Post has dropped from 18,500 to 12,700 since 2000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Locally, a fully paid circul-ation of less than 7,000 is spoken of. It is understood that options studied by Trinity Mirror, which owns the white-collar morning title, include converting the lossmaking publication into a weekly title. The media group might publish the Birmingham Mail, an evening newspaper with a blue-collar readership, in the mornings instead.

Free papers have also impacted on the daily’s sales – a problem for many newspaper publishing through the week in major cities, which thanks to the volume of people and wide extent of public transport, lend themselves to free papers.

Financial Times to introduce micropayments

August 7, 2009

As reported by the Independent, the FT is introducing micropayments, only a day after Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp announced plans to charge for all its news websites within a year:

FT executives, who hope to have the system in place by 2010, have not settled on the price for an individual story, but say that they have been impressed by the “fabulous buying experience” of iTunes, which allows users to buy a single song for 79p.

Rob Grimshaw, the managing director of, said that Apple’s impact on the music download culture was inspiring for news publishers: “iTunes is a great one to talk about because fundamentally they have created a fabulous buying experience. I’m a great believer that people don’t object to buying things online.

Mr Grimshaw said publishers had misunderstood the internet: “The demand for information is larger than it has ever been but for some reason the publishing industry as a whole decided it might be a good idea if they all gave away their primary product. It does not strike me as being a smart decision. There seems to be this belief abroad that the whole mechanics of human nature and economics have changed utterly on the internet and I simply don’t believe that’s the case. If you need a piece of information or an article and the only way you can get to it is to pay for it, then people will pay… they do object to hassle. If you create an experience that’s so quick and easy it involves pressing one button, you will find a lot of people are happy to do it.”

This plan would of course, complement the Financial Times’ pre-exisiting subscription method, which offers buiness and financial information essential to many companies. It seems unlikely that the FT thought this up in a day after Murdoch announced it, but could more papers be tempted to consider charging for content now that NewsCorp are planning to? Could they afford to wait to see if the business model works, a time which could be well over two years away?

Channel 4 News interviews Lionel Barber, FT Editor, on charging for content

August 4, 2009

Channel 4 News has an extended interview with Lionel Barber, Editor of the Financial Times, on the paper’s policy of charging for online content and the challenges faced by the print media in this wider industry.

Fee or Free reported on Barber’s speech to the Media Standards Trust, when he predicted that major newspaper organisations would be charging for content within a decade. The above video will also be featured in an upcoming in-depth look at national newspaper’s policies for charging online on Fee or Free.

Trinity Mirror planning to charge for specialist online content

August 3, 2009

As reported on Media Guardian, Trinity Mirror is planning several specialist sites – namely ‘MirrorFootball’ and a gossip site – for which it will charge online. Sly Bailey, Trinity Mirror CEO, said that there was little point charging for news content when it was offered, and will continue to be offered, by the BBC were free. Similar sentiments were offered by Peter Morrell, Head of Multimedia at Media Wales, when Fee or Free spoke to him recently.

Bailey continued:

The next launches you’re seeing from Trinity Mirror are on August 6,, taking us in to an area where we do have unique content in the form of our archive, and developing an engaged audience who are passionate about that, that is more definable than a general news audience … thinking over time about how we might develop audience and what the pay model might be over time.

The Times has it’s crossword, the FT it’s financial reporting – what is the specialist content and tools offered by other papers? It appears the debate is shifting from charging for news, to charging for high quality, unique content and services that an outlet can offer.

Bailey’s latest comments come after a fall in profits at Trinity Mirror, though she also considered the industry to have hit the financial bottom of the advertising slump.

Lionel Barber, Financial Times Editor, on charging for content online

July 28, 2009

Lionel Barber, who has editor of the Financial Times knows a thing or two about a successful business model which allows a paper to charge for online material online, has predicted that ‘almost all’ news organisations will, within a year, be charging for content online.

Speaking at a Media Standards Trust event, Barber said that:

“…we must go back to first principles and make the case for journalism. This is partly because the recession and the Internet are undermining the business model that has sustained news gathering since the late 19th century. The worldwide web has disrupted revenue streams and dramatically lowered the barriers to entry to the news business. As the Economist noted: “The business of selling words to readers and selling readers to advertisers, which has sustained their role in society, is falling apart.”

‘Disrupting the revenue streams’ makes the Internet sound like an inconvenience to the news industry, rather than an unparalleled opportunity which they can’t very well prevent regardless.

Peter Preston is less certain than Barber about what line the great newspaper giants will fall on when it comes to charging for content

The [New York] Times, which invests so much in content, may be able to charge successfully for some or all of it. But its unique user count (see Ken Doctor’s warning) is bound to decline, taking online advertising down with it. If there was a widespread, concerted change, then perhaps it could be contrived without too much loss. But current monopoly law makes such an organised commercial shift impossible.

Marks Potts thinks that readers won’t pay, simply due to the poor quality and lack of diversity on newspaper websites:

Most newspapers and their sites are full of content that’s widely available elsewhere—wire copy, stories covered by competitors, etc. In the flattened world of journalism in the Internet era, where monopolies are shattered and readers are a click away from countless alternatives. it’s just too easy for readers to look elsewhere—especially if you stick a pay wall in front of them.

Think newspapers are full of unique content? Well, sit down some day with a copy of just about any paper and circle what’s truly unique and unavailable anywhere else. The result isn’t pretty. Do the same thing with the paper’s Web site, and you quickly realize that the problem is compounded by presentation that just isn’t very compelling, to put it charitably.

Now, misguided, desperate leaders like the FT’s Barber somehow think the answer is to somehow convince readers to pay for something that, sadly, doesn’t have enough value to justify charging. Readers are smarter than that, and that’s why Barber’s notion that “almost all” news sites will soon be charging for access is a hopeless dream. Sure, they may charge—but readers won’t pay, at least not in anything resembling sufficient numbers. Not unless they see significant quality and value. And based on the current track record, there’s no reason whatsoever to believe that will be the case.
Jeff Jarvis is, unsurprisingly, almost desperately unsympathetic:

In what other industry do companies feel entitled to revenue just because they used to have it or they think they deserve it because of who they are?

But newspapers think that companies that served their customers better – Google or craigslist – owe them money because they lost those customers for serving them badly and ripping them off for years.

Of course, Barber and his paper are in a rather unique position, seeing as how they are afford to charge for content. They have a rich client base who require the unique financial information which, along with the Wall Street Journal, they provide. So Barber can state that:

‘figuring out what is special, distinctive and original is the vital first step. The second is to establish an online platform capable of charging for content, whether on a payment per article basis or a package subscription.

But few papers are in a similar position: and being the only paper to cover say, a small market town isn’t enough of a unique base. Peter Preston evaluates the options for some of the main national papers:

“The Telegraph, with a huge print subscription base, has one set of possibilities. The Express, with no subscriptions and not much of a website, has none – except price-cutting and seeing its print possibilities grow. The Guardian, leading the unique user pack, has advertising possibilities to lose if its user count slides too much in a charging switch – but jam the day after tomorrow doesn’t help if the teacake is burning today.”
With any luck, someone will call on Barber in 12 months and see where we are. But editor of the FT is a privileged position to make such pronouncements from.