The Reading Room

Paywalls paying dividends

The news that The Times and The Sunday Times made a profit this year has raised more than a few eyebrows among press commentators.

As Radio 4s The Media Show reported, for years they have been hemorrhaging losses – more than £70 million in 2009 and even £6 million last year.  This year, between them, the titles made £1.7 million – the first time they’d been in the black since 2001.

How have they turned things around?  Some pundits say it could be down, at least in part, to the success of their paywall strategy – charging people to access their content online.

True, £1.7m is a relatively small profit.  But when you consider that both titles prevent access to any content unless a person pays a subscription – compared to the ‘metered’ models preferred by the likes of the Daily Telegraph and Financial Times which allow a number of free articles before a charge kicks in – this figure looks even more impressive.

What it does seem to show is that they are succeeding in building a deeper relationship with their readers. Indeed, The Times has called it a membership (rather than subscription) model, because it says people want to feel part of a “news-based community”.  It argues that their model encourages a “higher standard” of on-site discussion due to the fact that all comments are attributed to a named subscriber.

Maybe they’re right but the wider question still remains: What is a fair price for digital journalism?

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