Yesterday The Times opened up its paywall to allow open access to its leader article on the future of the press regulation in the UK. The piece itself takes in different forms of regulation, and outlines some of whats happened in the Leveson Inquiry so far. My personal favourite was:
As the evidence of wrongdoing came to light, News International, Rupert Murdoch’s company that also owns The Times, was unable or unwilling to police itself. This was a disgrace
For those who persist in the narrative that everything that Rupert Murdoch touches is inherently interlinked, the piece offered a solid riposte and made a several interesting arguments concerning the British press.
But it wasn’t really the content of the article that mattered. It was the timing.
Faces who made appearances at Leveson yesterday included James Harding, editor at The Times and John Witherow, editor at The Sunday Times. So the decision was taken to publish this leading article outside the paywall because it had direct relevance to events happening later in the day that concerned the paper.
Today, the inquiry is hearing from The Times. This seems the appropriate moment to make clear to our readers the newspaper’s view on the future of the press.
By dropping the paywall The Times ensured that attention from readers (and potential customers) was maximised because the topic of press regulation has never occupied a larger space in the public mindset. Ive no idea of the traffic generated by the article, but its a surefire bet that its higher than usual in addition to increased social sharing on Twitter.
Whys this important? Because you can easily see The Times using this kind of leverage again in the future, and not just on leading articles.
The acid test would be to see how many readers would then decide that The Times were producing the kind of journalism that they liked and stump up £2 a week.
This kind of approach would lend particular articles more weight in the modern times of disposable content, because those not paying would race to see what they were missing. If they deemed £2 a fair price for more content of the same quality, they’d become subscribers.
Without stretching the analogy too far its a bit like my relationship with the Frontline Club. Frontline organises excellent events with authoratative speakers on a range of topics covering journalism and current affairs. I go to its events, but I cant afford the membership fee. The content is good, but the pricing isn’t right for me.
If people deem what they see ocassionally slipping out of the Times paywall to be worth the price of entry (I can count the people I know on two hands who subscribe for Caitlin Morans columns alone) then this kind of tactic could well be a new way to attract loyal subscribers to their brand. And, just like at Frontline, members are loyal.