Thursday, July 15, 2010


On the subject of the Times paywall, I’ve been asking myself: why do I buy newspapers? In fact now I only regularly buy the Sunday Times, which costs £2 a week, the same as the paywall that I’m still unwilling to breach. So why do I buy the Sunday Times for £2 a week?

1. telly guide
2. cryptic crossword
3. a general Sunday ritual
4. columnists
5. film, book and music reviews

For those reasons in that order. I’ll read the sport and some of the news, but it will be stuff I already know from the TV and internet, mainly the BBC. I don’t care about most of the ST lifestyle supplements. I’ll leaf through the mag.

The Times paywall can only offer me 4 and 5, in a different format. But The Guardian is just as good for reviews, if not better, so 5 is irrelevant. That leaves the columnists. The Times probably does have the best roster of hacks, but are they worth £2 a week compared to free papers and blogs?

Possibly, but the other side to this, strangely, is that if I did pay £2 a week I would feel obliged to read them regularly in order to get my money’s worth, and I don’t want to feel tied.

The Times Online needs to tempt me with something new that only it can offer. The web offers interactivity, so perhaps it needs to make its columnists work much harder. Get them all to interact with readers in the way that Peter Hitchens does - in the way that, um, bloggers do for free.


malty said...

You do of course have the advantage, with the real thing, of gazing longingly at the pix of AA Gill and Rod Liddle whilst wondering what the hell is that top the Yard is wearing. Tried the free trial run, Rupe must be confusing me with one of those readers who actually gives a f..k.

Willard said...

I love the paywall and despise The Guardian for what it overtly supports: the death of professional journalism and the rise of the hack (don't get me started on the opportunities they regularly give Lily Allen to publish her opinion).

The naivety of blogging disgusts me; my own naivety disgusts me for having done it so long. As you know, Brit, my blogs are now hidden behind walls that money can’t open and they’re going to remain that way. My work is for friends and that’s it. You should do the same. Don’t support this situation by which your effort is given away freely and, more importantly, good writing is seen as something without value or is a mere place-holder for a GoogleAd.

Brit said...

That's an unusually hard line on it, W. Have you bought into the Times?

malty said...

Could you expand a bit on the term 'naivety' Willard, you have my attention.
Or at least you will later on today.

Willard said...

Brit, not yet but, as you know, I'm under a financial/time constraint. I don't dislike the principle of the paywall. I previously paid for PressDisplay for some years.

Malty, I suppose it depends on the kind of blog being written – observations about the day are probably not worth much but, for example, Brit’s piece about the budget was one of the best summaries I read that week and I would have happily paid to read. Why shouldn’t that be rewarded?

I'm not exactly the new Updike but I always wanted to write. I began blogging because I assumed, like many bloggers, that my work would be appreciated by others and opportunities might arise in my chosen area. My first blog was nominated for a pretty big European award, nominated as a Yahoo Find of the Year, my work appeared occasionally in newspapers and was republished on other blogs. Yet I earned £11 for my work that year.

I moved on to a second blog, third and then fourth blog (unlinked to the first, so nobody knew it was me). I wrote well in excess of a million words and earned even less whilst around me I saw bloggers getting book deals. Wife in the North was probably the most famous, though I never understood why. Then, of course, I saw her profiled in a newspaper and realised she was already an established and well connected journalist. Without sounding bitter, I realised that if you were inside the loop, blogging could help your profile since you knew agents and people who would promote your work. Outside the loop, you really were no better off. In fact, you survived on the crumbs of other bigger bloggers. One of the really big bloggers even asked me to do work for them (for nothing) which I wouldn’t be able to publish on my own blog. I did it once (again, naively) and they didn’t even give me credit for the work.

I discovered that like most things, it’s not about the quality of your work but how well promoted you are.

I may sound bitter but going to private blogs was the best thing I’ve done. I now proudly boast of seven readers but they are readers that really matter to me. I get feedback from friends like Brit whose opinions I listen to, I don’t have to put up with much of the abuse I’d receive (I used to regularly get emails/comments telling me that they wished I would die), and because my work is ‘unpublished’, it’s now worth something to a publisher and my first book is being published this year.

I’m sure Brit will say he writes this as a hobby or as a sideline. However, it’s the principle that’s at stake: that good writing isn’t without value and that good writers should be rewarded for their efforts.

Sorry for the long reply. Just one of those topics that's a sore spot after so many years of trying to make money from writing/blogging.

Gaw said...

There's more to value than money. Just because Brit doesn't charge us, doesn't mean what he writes is without value.

And the whole of newspaper journalism is effectively a place holder for an ad.

Having said that it would be lovely if everyone got what they deserved.

Willard said...

I was being slight facetious when I suggested that Brit lock his blog but not totally so. But I certainly didn't imply that what Brit writes isn't valuable (you're twisting the meaning of my opening statement). What I mean is that the majority of blog output isn't the sort of thing that would go into a newspaper and wouldn't really be found behind a paywall. I know that much that I write in my blogs is just random observations or requests for help.

But as I said at the outset, it depends on the kind of blog you’re writing. And I’m certainly not equating value to money – the best blogs aren’t those with the biggest readerships or making the most profit. But blogging is a problem it that many bloggers do not distinguish what belongs to them and what belongs to others. The real problem are bloggers (unlike Brit) who don’t originate their own material, blogs that act as metablogs trawling the web for the best material and using it without permission. Naturally, people gravitate to them but it’s these middle men who take the reward.

Murdoch is now locking his property behind a pay wall and that makes a point not so much about finances but about intellectual ownership. I see no problem with that and, in fact, I think it's about time that somebody made a stand.

Gaw said...

I think there's the moral issue and the economic issue.

If I write something (or make any sort of product) that's very high quality but that, for whatever reason, no-one's willing to buy, I may deserve to be paid but I'm not going to be.

Not sure there's much that moral exhortation can do with this situation. But there is if you use marketing.

It sounds as if you've cracked your marketing challenge and it sounds as if you did it less by persuading people to be moral than by working out your product offer and marketing pitch (I apologise for the vulgar terminology).

However, not everyone who blogs is looking to make a living. On the margin, these others may mess it up a bit for people who do - but what you gonna do?

By the way, isn't it now economically rational for you to return to open (but probably selective) blogging to get publicity for your book?

(By the way again, I don't mean the contents of this comment to be a counter-argument as my guess is that we're mostly agreeing with each other).

Brit said...

The point about the internet middlemen is a v good one, Willard. I think The Times has been brave and I sympathise with their reasons.

I guess the problem for the papers is that they shouldn't have started from here - ie. they should have all charged from the off. But if they had I suppose at some point one of them (Grauniad, doubtless) would have done a reverse-paywall and gone free in an attempt to grab all the ad space.

None of this would have been a problem if internet advertising made serious money for the papers, but it just doesn't seem to work.

I think bloggers like us are a different question. For those who can't break into mainstream paid journalism (and the applicants vastly outnumber the vacancies) or just don't particularly want to, free bloggery provides an unprecedented way of finding readers and like-minded people. And then there are people like Frank Key, whose peculiar genius doesn't lend itself to making a conventional journalistic living. He takes an honesty box approach, and I pay him a small regular subscription out of gratitude for the entertainment he gives me. Frank also sells spin-off books to his readers, which is another option for bloggers now that you can self-publish through Lulu etc.
It's not a business model but it's something, and there don't yet seem to be any better solutions for such people.

By the way, if anyone does want to show appreciation for the 'value' of TofE, there's always the opportunity to stick a fiver or more into the poetry bleg!

zmkc said...

There is the third and, in my view, most unscrupulous kind of blogging, which I hadn't realised existed until I heard a writer of thrillers here talk this week. He explained that he knows nothing about guns and various other things that he features in his books - so he uses his blog readers as a free resource to find out whatever he wants to know. He just says to them, 'What should I include in this scene?' and they do the research for him for free. He seemed mightily pleased with his cunning plan.
On the broader issue, we live in an age where high quality craftsmanship of any kind has almost no market (this has also led, I reckon, to the decline of attractive architecture, but probably not a good idea to open up huge new vistas of debate here). Therefore, if you equate effort and skill with financial reward you will almost certainly be disappointed
But, Brit, which are the columnists you particularly like in the Sunday Times?

Gaw said...

z, I don't understand this equation of money with fairness. Isn't it a bit of fun to do research for a thriller writer in your spare time, especially if it's on a topic you are enthusiastic about anyway? Sufficient numbers of people appear to think so. Why on earth is this a bad thing? Is Wikipedia a bad thing because no-one earned money to put it together but people use it to research paid work (e.g. journalists)?

Gaw said...

By the way, the solution to newspaper profitability is probably for half of them to go out of business. A more traditional solution to declining profitability in a shrinking industry.

Brit said...

Z: In the ST I like the editorial, most of the ones in Culture (including the Yard, obviously) and News Review is usually good. Don't tell Malty but I always read AA Gill. I read Rod Liddle to get annoyed at him. I like all the sports ones except Martin Johnson, who thinks he's much funnier than he is.

In the Times as a whole I like Finkelstein, Parris, Aaranovitch, Robert Crampton and Caitlin Moran.

Brit said...

And Simon Barnes, the great hyperbolist of sport.

Willard said...

"he uses his blog readers as a free resource"

That is unscrupulous. Of course, I say this when Brit has just spent part of his morning kindly fixing my work.

"Therefore, if you equate effort and skill with financial reward you will almost certainly be disappointed"

Very true but that doesn't stop me from idealising it.

Brit, I think you're right about other business models and that will be the breakthrough: when we can pay small amounts (pence) with a click of a button and no messing with credit cards. I wouldn't be surprised if it came via Apple. The iPad is perfectly positioned to become a way of paying for news.

zmkc said...

Gaw -it was his wolfish smile of self-satisfaction that got me. Unlike Wikipedia of course his is not a not-for-profit enterprise - it's a not-for-profit for the innocent blog readers and lots of profit for him enterprise. But they choose to do it and no-one forces them. As an outsider, hearing him gloat, I felt sorry for them though, because I suspect their motivation is the thrill of association with a celebrity. They think they are all equals, but really he thinks they're mugs (or useful fools to warp the term and refer to one of your earlier posts)
Brit - AA Gill is v funny on a good day, surely no-one can deny that. Even if there is some kind of a formula there, he, like Colonel Sanders, was the first one to come up with it and remains the holder of its secret. Does Ann Treneman do the parliamentary sketches in the weekday Times? She's often v funny. Parriss can be a bit precious, don't you think (especially when he gets going on the subject of his llamas) - although I just followed his instructions for making tiny bits of soap useful by putting them in the microwave and they worked well so I'm v grateful. There are a couple of columnists in the weekend Financial Times that I used to pay good money for. It was my favourite weekend paper - and I think it's been unavailable free online forever, without all this paywall fuss (who owns the FT anyway?)
Willard - Wife in the North was really medicore wasn't it?

malty said...
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malty said...

Reasons for buying the ST in a shop and not via you Brit I do read Angela Agnes Gill and Rodders, they are amusing and I carry on reading untill Wednesday, a good two quids worth or what, old fashioned word amusing, works though.
I do think the Times may have made a commercial boo-boo, none of the newspapers should have given freebies on the scale that they have, it's their own fault and they may come to rue the day.

Or not, who knows, in the lap of the gods etc.

malty said...

Goodness, so much reading, all for free.
Facetiousness apart, mine that is, it's a pleasure to share the shed with you lot.

It's not us, it's the others.

Hey Skipper said...

Blogging is only peripherally,if at all, connected to the collapse of journalism (speaking as an American).

Craigslist is the root of all evil, evil defined as that which corrodes newspapers’ bottom lines. Ten-ish years ago, something like 30% of revenue came from classified ads. Now, essentially zip.

I began blogging because someone asked me to, and continue because there are times when it beats heck out of talking to myself.

The problem with private blogs is that they restrict the circle of people who might be interested, and if the subject matter is sufficiently esoteric, the odds of being acquainted with even one person who would have to be comatose to care less is pretty small.

Then there is the problem of that the set of writings that are “good” and the set that makes money are not the same (Just as in popular music, there are plenty of extraordinarily talented people who never make a dime. Meanwhile, plodders, whether through pure dumb luck or fad, end up drowning in swag.) With the disintermediation the internet allows — and is working its wonders on music publishing — people don’t need gate keepers to find what they like.

Finally, public blogging can provide things you essentially cannot find otherwise. I am expert in almost nothing, but for the one thing I am expert in, I can shame conventional journalism. Provided, that is, one has a a superhuman attention span in order to wade through acres of arcane detail.

The audience for that sort of thing will never be big enough to pay, but, for those who are interested, there is probably some value added from the effort.

BTW — I completely agree that those who wholesale post what others have written is wrong. My rough limit is roughly 3 paras, thoroughly attributed.

Back in the day, I loved using up an entire Sunday morning over coffee and The Times.


By the way, the solution to newspaper profitability is probably for half of them to go out of business. A more traditional solution to declining profitability in a shrinking industry.

I think you are right. Too bad about the death of local news, unless one’s locality is a metropolis.

Hey Skipper said...
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Hey Skipper said...
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Hey Skipper said...
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worm said...

I think that the paywall could work if they really begin to struggle. Fingers crossed that the resulting lack of cash and mad panic to lure in paying readers could result in the editors resorting to setting up gladatorial death-matches between Sunday Times journalists. Held in a post-apocalyptic dome, with Tina Turner as referee

Mark said...

Interesting ideas. It's true of a lot of things, however: that only a tiny number of people derive any income from it. The rest make nothing and become prey for the parasites that spring up under the money trees.

So I suspect that writing - unless directly connected to your work - has to be a labour of love or it is nothing. And the value the writer ascribes to the writing is what keeps one going; doing something like this for other people is never enough.

I think this is true of anything similiar, too - photography, watercolours, pottery, arts and crafts of all kinds. In my case, I take a lot of pics and mostly I publish them on the net, which means immediately that anyone can rip me off if they want to. Naive? Maybe, but I don't much care. I'm not in this for money. The only thing I have in a photography is the experience; I don't own the butterfly or the church steeple, an absurd idea.

Our culture and civilization are built on sharing and tolerance. It could be argued that lately we have all become obsessed with ownership, never that central to the plan, imho. The FOSS movement works perfectly well without it, for example. Blogging is a brilliant idea that soon disappeared under a tsunami of commerce. Maybe there are far more things than we think that are either not possible nor perhaps even appropriate to make money from.

Anyway, a few may end up filthy rich but if it's done on the basis of exploiting people, well I wouldn't want to live inside a head like that. Probably better to do on the internet as you do in life - if necessary, tell them they are bounders and bandits - and damn the consequences.

As for Mr Murdoch: after what he did to a company I once worked for I'm hoping they are preparing a very warm welcome where he is going.