Paywalls - The Times starts charging

So, The Times (the UK one) has started charging for its content - the great paywall debate/debacle. To be honest, I dont blame them for doing this - someone has to pay for the content to be produced, and it should be a combination of reader and advertiser. The reader has had it free for a long, long time, and ad rates are dropping, so something has to take up the slack.

But in this case, they are bat-shit crazy.

If I want to read The Times (and I'm going to ignore the fact I find their reporting and views awful), I can wander down to the newsagent and get it for 90p. For this 90p, someone has gone and written the stories, edited and sub'ed it, laid it out, printed it, and the moved it around London on a truck (I think the printing press is close to me, but hey - doesn't really matter, it's still 90p in Yorkshire). Often they have thrown in a free DVD or something similar.

Now, lets say I want to read it online, which is my preferred way to do it. Someone still has to write the articles, edit and sub edit them, and in a limited way, lay them out. But there is no printing, or moving it around. And for this, I'm charged £1 per day. Sure, I can read back articles, but those really don't cost The Times anything (it's not zero - disk space isn't really free - but there are so many zeros between the 0. and the first digit that it might as well be).

So, they have managed to take out half of the costs, but put the price up 10%. Impressive. Totally flawed, but impressive none the less.

There is no point in screaming "but information wants to be free" (which is actually a mis-used quote). The issue is more that I can go somewhere else (usually the Guardian) and get the same article for free. The Times has very little unique content, the same as most newspapers. It's not even presented in a better way, tho if the front page is anything to go by, it's fairly ad-free - and for £1/day, it better be ad-free.

Also in the mix, there is no offline option. Thats the great thing about the print edition - I can read it anywhere I have light. For The Times, it's only at a computer (online), or on an iPad (which I can't determine to be offline without paying £10.99, but I'm going to assume it is). Their digital editions, as a replacement for the paper ones, are totally full of fail.

So, here's what I think they should do (and this applies to the NBR in New Zealand, too, who have done something similar):

If you are charging for content, let me sub for a month. Let me setup an account with you, and then read it where ever and when ever I like. Even if I have to register a mobile device with your website to use it, thats fine (tho a little big-brother). But I pay once - £10 a month isn't bad - and can read it online, on my iPhone, on an iPad, on a laptop, whatever. The apps are free (maybe you get the headlines for free, like the current homepage), but the content isn't. To get details, you need to have a login. The infrastructure is there already - use it.

If you must charge per day, let me pay £5, keep it in credit, and use it over time. For £5 I can buy a week, or have £5 different days of use. I have to log into an account to use it anyway!

It needs to be a lot cheaper than the print version, given it's at least perceived that it's cheaper to do the digital edition. £10/month is a good price point. I'd pay that without thinking for the Guardian. Start with, at most, 50% of your print subscription price.

I'd love to know how the NBR is going, tho I'm not sure they can or will say (Chris?). They have a mix of paid-for and free content, and from what I can find, no mobile device apps (didn't we talk about this 18 months ago?). Is it working for them? I'd love to know.

The Financial Times and WSJ are always put up as models, but there are two reasons why those work: fairly unique content, and expense accounts. The content they have can't be found anywhere else (or at least in a very few places), and people make money off the information they provide, so their companies can pay for it and claim it off the top line. It's a no-brainer to pay £300 for 6 months of the FT if you are making even £150 a day off the information it contains. I suspect that this is why the NBR is working too.