Category Archives: Rupert Murdoch

Open letter to Rupert Murdoch concerning The Sunday Times paywall

Dear Rupert Murdoch,

Last week, on 4 August, this website reported that you ‘gave the first hint’  that subscriber levels to The Times pay wall are ‘strong’.

Good on you.

But what you have done has really hacked me off. You may not care about this. After all, who am I?

Well, I am one of your customers.

I have been reading The Sunday Times for all my adult life and I still pay £2 a week for the privilege. My kids think this is heathen behaviour and a complete waste of paper – especially as I don’t read half of it. The ‘Money’, ‘In Gear’ and ‘Home’ sections go straight in the orange bag.  In ‘Travel’, I read that naughty little article ‘Confessions of a Tourist’ and then chuck that out too. Such a waste of paper.

As I’m a cultured kind of guy, I read ‘Culture’, especially the book section, but I’ll come back to that.

By the way, I used to keep ‘Culture’ for a week to refer to the TV and Radio listings (sometimes returning to book reviews and other articles I glossed over on Sunday) but now I chuck it on the Sunday with the rest.

Ironically, this is thanks to you. Because not only do I buy The Sunday Times every week but I subscribe to Sky for TV, phone and broadband. And on my Sky HD+ box, it is much easier to see what programmes are coming up than it is in your Sunday Times ‘Culture’ section. So I bin it.

The sections I do read are the newspaper, ‘Review’, ‘Business’ and ‘Sport’ (even there, the ‘Cowes Week’ supplement went straight overboard). So, for years, I have paid for your products and been a loyal customer.

But last week there was an article in The Sunday Times about a medical condition in which I have a particular interest. I wanted to ‘save’ it on my computer in the special computer file I keep for this subject.

I looked the article up your website to see if I could save it electronically. No doubt, you will say this is illegal. But I feel I have paid for the article and, having paid up, the format in which I want to file it is my business.

Then I hit the pay wall.

Well, I am sorry. I have already paid for this content in your paper.And I deeply resent the fact that you are trying to extract even more money out of me for something I have already paid for. So what did I do?

I could have scanned in the article and saved it electronically but, before bothering to do this, I found the same subject on one of your competitor’s websites. They covered it quite well, actually, and they didn’t charge me to access it (so I’m thinking of transferring to their newspaper too).

Anyway, I think I have a better idea (or rather, on this site, an insight) which, on a one-off basis only, I am prepared to share with you for free. First, I have to declare an interest. I am a co-founder of two websites www.Lovereading.co.uk and www.Lovewriting.co.uk.

Lovereading reviews and recommends books and charges publishers to email this content to readers who have opted in to receive this service for the genres of books they have told us they are interested in.

Lovewriting doesn’t review and recommend books, but is a media channel where self-published authors pay us to promote their books on the site. To help these independent authors, we urge our 150,000+ Lovereading users to browse books on Lovewriting.

All Featured Books on both these websites have free Opening Extracts. Admittedly, compared to your empire, these are tiny businesses. However, because of what I have learnt, I can accuse you of being lazy.

Why don’t you use your Sunday Times website to find out from me the ‘sections’ of content that I am interested in and pay for on a weekly basis? Why don’t you unbundle your customers into their areas of interest rather than by media channel (newspaper, TV, digital etc)?

Why don’t you ask us if we would be interested in receiving digital content from your media channels in our individual areas of interest (e.g. books)?

Then you could charge advertisers to reach clearly defined audiences who you know, because they have told you, are interested in certain activities (books, cars, sport etc) and likely to buy the products that apply thereto.

Perhaps you could could do this across all your media channels and point your customers to ‘destination sites’, such as www.Lovereading.co.uk, which would offer them more in-depth coverage of their areas of interest.

This way, you can avoid hacking off previously loyal customers like me by asking us to pay twice for the same content.

Yours sincerely,

A Different Hat

PS – from Lovereading, I have learnt there are many other smart ways of monetising your newly refined and defined customers but, like you, I’m not going to give everything away for free am I?

I did enough of that in my last post.

http://community.brandrepublic.com/blogs/adifferenthat/archive/2010/08/12/open-letter-to-rupert-murdoch-concerning-the-sunday-times-paywall.aspx

Rupert Murdoch claims to own the ‘Sky’ in ‘Skype’ – stupidest law suit of the year award

I have to confess that when I first heard the news that Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB has launched a legal challenge to Skype I thought April Fool’s Day had come early, not least because the basis of the case is that the company claims to own the “Sky” in “Skype”.

But it transpired that the case was genuine and that BSkyB has been ensconced in a legal battle with Skype for the last five years. The news only emerged after a brief reference to the case in the 250-page document announcing Skype’s Wall Street flotation.

A Sky spokesman said: “The key contention in the dispute is that the brands ‘Sky’ and ‘Skype’ will be considered confusingly similar by members of the public.”

To which I can only reply that I have never linked the two and can’t think of anyone who has. But it seems that the EU has upheld Sky’s complaint and, should Skype lose its upcoming appeal, the company may be forced to change its name.

One wonders if others who have had the temerity to use the word “sky” in their work will now fall foul of the Dirty Digger.

Update: BSkyB have been in touch to point out that the dispute concerns several trademark applications filed by Skype, including, but not limited to, television-related goods and services. Were Skype’s name to appear on a set-top box it’s fair to say that Sky would have a better case. But I’m sure most people could make the distinction.

Sky may claim their customer research suggests members of the public would be confused by the similarity but the key question is this: did any of them consider ‘Sky’ and ‘Skype’ similar before they were asked?

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/08/legal-case-murdoch-claims-sky

GNM’s Brooks: Times to keep 10% of readers would be ‘breathtakingly successful’

Publishers looking to paywalls, mobile or the iPad to singularly replace lost print revenues are set to be disappointed, according to Guardian News & Media’s Tim Brooks.

“There is no silver bullet,” warned the 52-year-old managing director who is, like the rest of the industry, following News International’s paywall experiment with great interest. But, he believes, unlike this week’s reports that claimed The Times retained two-thirds of its online traffic, actual readership is likely to settle at a fraction of that.

Brooks said: “We did our own calculations around paywalls in the early part of last year and the indications we’ve had is that the assumptions we put into our model are actually similar to the assumptions that they’re working on.” Prior to erecting the paywall, John Witherow, editor of The Times, appeared to be under no illusions when he admitted it could cost the brand more than 90% of its audience. But Brooks said “to keep 10% would be astronomically brilliant”. He explained: “If you think about click-through rates and you think about conversion rates on click-through rates, and that’s what marketing people are used to dealing with, and then you multiply that by an order of magnitude for the fact that you’ve got a strong brand like The Times. 10% would be breathtakingly successful.”

GNM’s leader has tried to avoid being drawn on the actual number he believes his rival is looking at, but goes on to use the example of evaluating the loss of 95% of readership. Brooks suggested the Murdochs have a more ambitious strategy in mind than generating online subscriptions and pointed to James Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture last summer, in which he stated his belief that there’s only one media market now. e also mentioned News Corp’s move to buy the 61% of BSkyB it does not currently own as soon as David Cameron came to power. He said: “You can see a picture that they may be painting of the future where they have a sort of ‘walled garden’ of Sky / News [Corp] wholly-owned content offerings, including their newspapers.”

 The Guardian remains open to paywalls

For his part, Brooks remains decidedly pragmatic about the possibilities around paywalls. Unlike The Guardian’s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, there’s no talk of Rupert Murdoch “sleep walking to oblivion” or philosophical musings about the “democratisation of the web”. For Brooks, the equation just doesn’t currently fit with GNM’s goal. He said: “We looked at the difference it will make to our net revenues, and we looked at the loss of over 90% of our audience for the gain of a very small percentage of additional revenue.

 “For News [International], journalism is a means to an end, and the end is profit. For us it’s different, journalism is our end. “It’s not a means to anything… and you would need very powerful journalism arguments for us to close our journalism off from 95% of people who are accessing it currently.” Interestingly, this altruism does not appear to extend to GNM’s other outlets, including the newspaper itself or its iPhone app, which achieved more than 100,000 downloads in its first 10 weeks and, at a cost of £2.39, raked in more than £240,000.

 Brooks reasoned it is because of the open nature of the web: “You have to think about the nature of the platform that you’re trading on. So if you think about newspapers, typically, it is a closed platform. “That is one reason why we felt confident about charging for our iPhone app, the habit of paying for things through iTunes is an established habit.”  But those who believe that the Guardian is somehow a devout champion of an open, free internet should take note. If expectations were to shift, GNM’s leader has no qualms in changing direction.

 Noting Google’s trialling of “newspass”, a system that promises micro-payments as well as long-term subscriptions through a friction-free paywall, Brooks admitted: “If the ecology of the system changes, we’ll change our behaviour. We’re not King Canutes here. “We just believe at the moment, people don’t expect to pay for things on the web, by and large won’t pay for things on the web, and we’re not a big enough animal to change people’s behaviour.”

 http://www.brandrepublic.com/bulletin/brandrepublicnewsbulletin/article/1017422/gnms-brooks-times-keep-10-readers-breathtakingly-successful/

Clay Shirky: ‘Paywall will underperform – the numbers don’t add up’

His predictions for the fate of print media organisations have proved unnervingly accurate; 2009 would be a bloodbath for newspapers, he warned – and so it came to pass. Dozens of American newspapers closed last year, while several others, such as the Christian Science Monitor, moved their entire operation online. The business model of the traditional print newspaper, according to Shirky, is doomed; the monopoly on news it has enjoyed ever since the invention of the printing press has become an industrial dodo. Rupert Murdoch has just begun charging for online access to the Times – and Shirky is confident the experiment will fail.

“Everyone’s waiting to see what will happen with the paywall – it’s the big question. But I think it will underperform. On a purely financial calculation, I don’t think the numbers add up.” But then, interestingly, he goes on, “Here’s what worries me about the paywall. When we talk about newspapers, we talk about them being critical for informing the public; we never say they’re critical for informing their customers. We assume that the value of the news ramifies outwards from the readership to society as a whole. OK, I buy that. But what Murdoch is signing up to do is to prevent that value from escaping. He wants to only inform his customers, he doesn’t want his stories to be shared and circulated widely. In fact, his ability to charge for the paywall is going to come down to his ability to lock the public out of the conversation convened by the Times.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jul/05/clay-shirky-internet-television-newspapers

Editorial Comment

If Murdoch wants to turn The Times Online into a wierd version of a paid for subscription only news sheet let him. The Times (aka Thunderer) made its name bringing the news to the masses, telling people news it was scared to hear but needed to know (Russell in the Crimean War) (George Steer’s report of the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War) (Robert Fisk’s reports on brutality in Northern Ireland in the 80’s) – some of the last centuries greatest work. However, as Murdoch said himself “I did not come all this way not to interfere” (ref: John Simpson ‘Unreliable Sources’ p502 Macmillan Press) – and he is doing it again. How can The Thunderer ever set the news agenda of the nation (and the world) if it is only ever read by a small fee paying elite? If it wants to make tips on the stock market then fine, sell & charge for it online. If it wants to be relevant to Britain it needs to speak to everyone

The new Times and Sunday Times go live – paywall means see all or see nothing – no aliases on the comment section either

The new websites of The Times and Sunday Times went live Tuesday for a free trial period ahead of the adoption of an all-or-nothing paywall. The sites will be free to view to those who register for around a month, after which all content except the homepages will go behind a paywall, rendering it invisible to search engines. This paywall big bang is far more ambitious than existing paywalls at titles such as the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal which allow limited free access and let casual browsers to view articles via search engines like Google. In another radical departure, the sites will only allow subscribers to comment under their real names. Those wishing to comment anonymously will have to make a case to editorial staff for doing so. For the Sunday Times it will be the first time the title has had a standalone website. Around 35 additional staff have been taken on to produce thesundaytimes.co.uk, which is more visual and magazine-like than thetimes.co.uk – that site more closely resembles the print edition. This week’s launches will mark the first step in News Corporation proprietor Rupert Murdoch’s bid to charge for content across all his newspaper titles. The Sun and News of the World are set to follow later this year.

http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=45494&c=1

Fox News targets Latinos with new website

Fox News plans to launch this fall a website aimed at a Latino audience as it seeks to build its coverage and links with one of the fastest-growing U.S. communities. Fox News, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, said on Wednesday the new site FOX News Latino (www.FoxNewsLatino.com) will provide original news and features focused exclusively on the Latino community. The U.S. Latino population is one of the fastest growing, accounting for around 15.4 percent of the population in 2008, up from 12.5 percent in 2000, according to Pew Research. As that population grows, marketers are spending more of their advertising dollars with Hispanic media outlets. “About a third of the country is going to be of Latino heritage by 2050 and we thought it was time to launch a site with more of a focus,” said Michael Clemente, Fox News’ senior vice president of news editorial. But Clemente said it was unlikely Fox News will launch a news television channel focused on the Latino community. The new website will feature videos and other content in both Spanish and English with reports from the United States as well as South and Central America, and the West Indies, among other regions

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64I72R20100519

Guardian editor forecasts ‘vault of darkness’ for The Times

Alan Rusbridger and John Witherow sparred over their respective free and paid-for online journalism models last night, but were united in saying their current printing presses will be their last.  The rival editors were participating in a BBC Radio 4 debate staged only weeks before The Times and Witherow’s Sunday Times begin enforcing an online subscription regime of £1 per day and £2 per week

According to Witherow, the new Sunday Times site will be free for a month before the paywall goes up between internet users and the editorial.   Witherow admitted the move, instigated by News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch, would decimate the Times’ online readership by “easily” more than 90% but argued it would be “perilous” to continue to rely totally on online advertising revenues.

The free model pursued by most newspapers, including Rusbridger’s Guardian, would lead to “poorer and poorer” journalism in the long term, Witherow claimed. “The point of [charging online subscriptions] is to make money so we can invest in journalism. Pay journalists decent salaries, send them places, get better reporting,” he said, having earlier pointed out it cost The Times a million pounds per year to maintain a Baghdad correspondent.   “The danger of this other model is that gradually the journalism will diminish, it will get poorer and poorer, you won’t be able to afford things, you won’t be able to do things and so everybody is poorer as a result.”

However, Rusbridger questioned the significance of the revenues the Times and Sunday Times could make from what he guessed would be in the region of 60,000 to 100,000 online subscribers compared to Guardian.co.uk’s 32 million users. “That’s two or three weeks’ revenue in terms of cover price. That’s useful revenue, I can see why people are trying it, but it’s not a game changer. It will be interesting if it succeeds but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is going to be the panacea.”

Rusbridger’s prediction elicited the response from Witherow that he would be “disappointed” with 60,000 subscribers, but the Sunday Times editor refrained from giving his own estimate of the number of future paying users. Witherow later said News International was “going full out to make it work” and did not yet have a plan B if it did not. For his part Rusbridger professed that while staying free was the best way forward journalistically for The Guardian, he welcomed the experimentation from The Times.

“The truth is that nobody knows – John doesn’t know, I don’t know – how this is going to end up. It’s a good thing that he’s experimenting so we’ll try different models and end up learning something from both.” However, though claiming it would be crazy to be “fundamentalist” about staying free if The Times succeeded, the Guardian editor went on to nail his colours to the mast by saying “if you erect a paywall around your content you kind of go into a vault of darkness”. He believed openness to and collaboration with the wider internet “ecosystem” were key assets in future journalism.

Rusbridger bolstered his argument by claiming The Guardian’s digital advertising revenues were up around 100% in a year, in contrast to Witherow’s admission of falling revenues. The Guardian editor warned The Times faced competition not just from other newspaper websites but from specialist free websites such as News Corporation’s own Book Army.

“The competition isn’t from the bundled newspaper sites, it’s from the people who have a much lower cost model who are going to do it for free,” he said. “The moment we get behind a paywall, they’re going to say ‘thanks very much, that’s what we were praying for’.”

Rusbridger also noted that Murdoch’s Sky News website would still provide free news competition, memorably saying: “Rupert Murdoch is having it both ways at the moment and he would as readily stab you in the back as the front.”    

One issue the two men did agree on is that neither newspaper group will need new printing presses. Rusbridger said: “I would miss print … but if it means that print goes and Guardian journalism continues digitally, that’s not the worst thing in the world.”

“Our last printing presses [which were installed in 2005 with the switch to the Berliner format] – I had a feeling in my bones that they might be the last printing presses.” Pushed by host Steve Hewlett for a date by which The Guardian will not exist in print, Rusbridger said: “I was thinking 20 years at that point. I think that might be telescoping quite dramatically now.”

Witherow seemed to suggest a longer timescale, albeit a similar sentiment: “We’ve got new presses [installed in 2008] that were supposed to last 30 or 40 years. We rather assumed the same thing, that these would be the last. Things are speeding up now and for us to predict how long print will be around is very difficult.

“My theory is it’s going to be a considerable time, especially with something like the Sunday Times, which has magazines and is a tactile experience.” An edited version of the debate can be heard today on Radio 4’s ‘The Media Show’ at 1.30pm

http://www.brandrepublic.com/BrandRepublicNews/News/1004140/Guardian-editor-forecasts-vault-darkness-Times/?DCMP=EMC-DailyNewsBulletin

Murdoch’s Times to offer daily energetic and purposeful mass debates behind its controversial paid for firewall

The Times is to offer daily live debates and discussions as part of a range of incentives to encourage readers to pay for access to its website. News International contacted preview subscribers this week to disclose a few of the new features it plans to bring in when it introduces paywall barriers to the websites of The Times and Sunday Times newspapers in June. In addition to daily discussions with political, cultural, business and sporting figures Times Online, which will be relaunched as Thetimes.co.uk, will offer greater interaction with its reporters. The planned launch of a stand-alone website for the Sunday Times will see it introduce a “culture planner”. The interactive feature promises weekly events calendars, critics recommending “must-sees”, video previews, a ticket booking facility and remote TV recording through the site – presumably with a link to Sky’s set-top technology. In the promotional material News International also said its new Times website would allow readers the opportunity to “become part of the debate and engage with the news”. The publisher said it will also allow readers to “ask our journalists about their stories” while an OpEd Live feature will let “columnists and contributors bring their comment pieces to life online” however it does not go into detail on how these new features may work. News International announced last month that from June readers would be charged GBP 1 for a day’s access to the websites of its quality newspapers or GBP 2 for a week’s subscription. Payment will allow access to both websites

http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=45358

Why did it all go wrong for the once fashionable social network?…Bebo has failed to evolve in the way of Facebook and Twitter

Buying a fledgling social networking site is the quickest way for a giant corporation to gain credibility with a youthful audience, but it is also the fastest way to waste a few hundred million pounds.

US internet giant AOL snapped up Bebo, the UK equivalent of Facebook, for $800m two years ago, only to announce last week that it was embarking on a “strategic review” that is likely to lead to its closure. At the time of the deal in March 2008, which made millionaires of Bebo’s founders Michael Birch, a Briton, and his Californian wife, Xochi, AOL described it as “a game-changing acquisition” that “puts us in a leading position in social media”. That lead evaporated remarkably quickly.

Back then, Bebo had a global audience of between 7.1 million (according to online ratings company Nielsen) and 40 million (said Bebo). Most agreed it was the third largest social networking site in the UK behind Facebook and MySpace, although it had struggled to gain traction in the US. According to figures from ComScore, Bebo’s global unique visitors in February 2010 totalled 12.8 million, down 45% on February 2009. Facebook had 462 million visitors, MySpace nearly 110 million, and Twitter 69.5 million.

What went wrong? Being brought by a global corporation tarnished the cooler-than-thou image of an independent start-up that was particularly popular in school playgrounds. Aggressive expansion by Facebook also played a part. Like most social networking sites, Bebo also benefited from a novelty factor that can disappear as quickly as it emerges. News Corp, the media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch, bought MySpace for $580m in 2005, only to watch its appeal diminish along with its value as it loaded the site with adverts.

ITV took a gamble on another UK start up, Friends Reunited, paying £120m in the same year, only to sell it at a huge loss last year. Company insiders criticise AOL for failing to invest in Bebo, and point out that an acquisition by a corporate giant tends to stifle creativity. That may hide a more uncomfortable truth, however, which can make a mockery of the savviest owners. Social networking sites are businesses based on the fickle behaviour of internet users, who are free to move on to the next site when a competitor emerges and are offered few reasons to stick with their existing site. In that sense, Bebo was a fad.

It may not have fallen into the trap of letting naked commercialisation scare its teenage users away, but nor did it evolve in the manner that many of its competitors did. Facebook is used by adults as well as children. Much of Twitter’s power, influence – and likely longevity – derives from the fact it has become a professional tool, rather than an online outlet for gossip posted by its users.

Start-ups rarely fare well when they are taken under the wing of a bureaucratic corporate parent, and Bebo may also have suffered by hitching its wagon to AOL, a business that has itself seen better days. It is owned by Time Warner, an American media giant that owns CNN, Time magazine and a host of other assets, but the $162bn deal that brought AOL and Time together is now regarded as one of the most disastrous in corporate history.

Buying Bebo was an attempt to build on AOL’s status as the world’s first internet provider by bolting on a new audience, but internet users are notoriously promiscuous. For Bebo’s young users, the site turned out to be the online equivalent of a teenage crush – intense while it lasted, but it didn’t last…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/apr/11/bebo-mistake-aol-facebook-twitter

Will Murdoch’s paywall work?

All eyes are on Rupert Murdoch’s great paywall experiment? It’s the subject of my London Evening Standard column today.

It is also the subject of Philip Stone’s column today on the Follow the Media site. He writes: “Put yourself in Murdoch’s shoes and you could well ask yourself, ‘What do I have to lose?’ The Times and Sunday Times just announced horrific 2009 results, losing some £80m between them… So for those particular properties it doesn’t take a genius to see the current business model is smashed.”

Stone argues that “it’s about time someone had the guts to go ahead and really try it [charging for online content]… and the man with printer’s ink running through his veins is giving it a go… if he can succeed he might just save an entire industry, not just his own two newspapers.”

He speculates that if 5% of the current 1.2m daily visitors to The Times’s site (60,000) agree to pay the £2-a-week subscription, it will result in revenue of £6.24m a year. Then he writes:

So then the big question becomes why should someone pay to read The Times and The Sunday Times online when they can read The Guardian and other UK newspapers, let alone the BBC site, for free?

That one is not so easy to answer. The New York Times found with its Times Select system of a couple of years back that people were willing to pay to read some of their best columnists. Do the Murdoch newspapers have such columnists that are a ‘must read’?…

And that is going to be the deal-decider. What content will The Times and Sunday Times have that just can’t be found elsewhere for free?

After pointing out that the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal have successful pay models because people gladly pay for business and financial information, Stone suggests a “bundling” of Murdoch’s WSJ with The Times/Sunday Times.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/mar/31/charging-for-content-thetimes