News International has announced their pricing plans for two of their UK online newspapers – The Times and the Sunday Times. The charges will start in June and users will have to pay £1 for a day’s access and £2 for a week. The Times already charges for its 200 year archive: £4.95/day, £14.95/month or £74.95 for an annual pass but that is actually useful! New separate web sites will be launched in May and will be available free for a trial period to registered users. The subscription will give users access to both sites.You can register now for the preview at http://www.timesplus.co.uk/.
There is no information at present as to whether Google will be allowed to crawl the site and at least give searchers links to priced content. If Murdoch wants out of Google’s News index then he is shooting himself in the foot. As far as the average user is concerned, if it isn’t in Google it doesn’t exist, and the stories in The Times and Sunday Times are rarely unique. The information can be found free of charge in other newspapers so News International is really going to have add something very special to attract paying punters.
We can’t say we weren’t forewarned. In late November and early December of 2010 Rupert Murdoch accused Google, Microsoft and others of stealing News International’s content, threatened to ban Google from his web sites, and confirmed that they were looking at charging for access. BBC’s Newsnight included a major item on the “shoot-out” in their December 2nd broadcast. Part of the broadcast and discussion can be found at ” BBC News – Newsnight – Google blinks first in battle over newspaper content” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8393820.stm.
Will people pay for the content? Both newspapers can no longer rely on their reputation for quality reporting – which some say went downhill as soon as Murdoch bought the titles- and they rarely have unique content. This morning I compared coverage of a dozen stories in the The Times, Guardian, Independent and Telegraph. In most cases The Times merely repeated verbatim syndicated content. The other three had made an effort to acquire additional information and provide more background to the stories. The Times is going to have to try a lot harder if they are to persuade people to part with cash.
News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks is reported as saying: “This is just the start. The Times and The Sunday Times are the first of our four titles in the UK to move to this new approach.” They cannot seriously be thinking of charging for online access to The Sun and News of the World can they? On second thoughts, that might work!