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Summary:

The Times and Sunday Times’ upcoming paid sites will not allow their articles to appear in search engines like Google (NSDQ: GOOG). That was…

TheTimes.co.uk homepage, May 12

The Times and Sunday Times’ upcoming paid sites will not allow their articles to appear in search engines like Google (NSDQ: GOOG). That was one nugget gleaned during a preview of the attractive forthcoming relaunches Monday night. Times Online will relaunch as separate entities “imminently” has relaunched as two separate editions and will go paid within about four weeks. But the sites will only show their homepages, not articles, to search engines.

That means the sites – which are fine, focused products – could be passing up their greatest customer acquisition opportunity: their content itself. Non-members who reach a story page are greeted by a Times+ sign-up and login overlay, obscuring the article; there’s no taster, no excerpt and no way that anyone will find those articles via search sites.

It’s all a more conservative strategy than News Corp (NYSE: NWS) stablemate WSJ.com, but: “When we showed it to people, that was the model they preferred,” said Times executive editor Danny Finkelstein. “We’re completely unashamed about this. We’re trying to get people to pay for the journalism and we wanted to do it in a very simple way.”

Assistant editor Tom Whitwell added on the search issue: “The clarity is something that was very important. If you’re asking someone to pay for something, it has to be very clear what they’re paying for.”

But, by scoping down their possible customer base only to readers who already know and appreciate the Timeses’ particular output, the sites appear to be falling back on their core constituencies of loyal readers, or otherwise folk who already know what The Timeses stand for.

The £2-a-week reader charge, we learned, will auto-renew, unlike the £1 daily fee, and, naturally, no-one at the papers is prepared to communicate in-house subscriber targets. It’s this weekly pricepoint which the publisher thinks will be the more popular of the two.

The existing Times Online will remain online and visible to search engines for a period yet to be determined, containing only material from prior to the site’s separation. This site, Finkelstein said, “is a good opportunity to advertise our new product to people”.

  1. Jared Kimmel Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Smart move.

    What the press and this journalist fail to realize and accept is that search engine referrals do not lead to increased conversion into paying subscribers. The FT, WSJ, and other publications have know this and are clamping down and/or removing their free, frequency-based alternatives.

    What works better is to offer a “free” day and allow folks to see more than one article, get the full experience.

    To think that someone is going to search for a topic, read an article and then become a subscriber is misguided at best.

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  2. John Hartley Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Bizarrely, you cannot access any of the Times websites if you are under 18: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/tools_and_services/services/terms_and_conditions: “You must be 18 or over to register for the Services. If you are under 18, please stop using the Services and notify us right away”. So they are doing an outstanding job encouraging new readers to replace their ageing core readership.

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  3. Nonsense! what about capturing new readers? Referral is one of the best ways for people to find out about you, they will become irrelevant in the future.
    It might work in the short term but as a long term strategy I think it’s a disaster.
    Do you really think people are going to pay on the internet for a second division publication like the sun or the times?
    This all reminds me of Groundhog day, its been tried before and it didn´t work!

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  4. I wish them luck. They’re going to need it.

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  5. Time Travel Writer Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    You can’t fight ships against shore-based guns because they can sink you and you can’t sink them.

    “Issue in doubt.” I suppose the journalists will do a better job searching for survivors and the costs will be high. As with golf, the course keeps getting better and my game keeps getting worse. It took years to get this bad and it’s getting worse. The worst is yet to come and it will cost more. The green fees aren’t going up are they? “We broke a 66 year tradition by giving two cans of beer after you’re out at sea for 60 days. But that’s a hell of a tough way to get a cold beer.”

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  6. John Hartley,
    Good spot. That’s crazy.
    But then, I suppose you’d need a debit card to access anyway?

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  7. derrick_burke Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    I agree with Jared. There is no point in trying to attract non-paying customers. Other methods of conversion are far more effective.

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  8. Time Travel Writer Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Information Warfare
    The degree of information superiority that allows the possessor to use information systems and capabilities to achieve an operational advantage in a conflict or to control the situation in operations short of war, while denying those capabilities to the adversary.

    I guess they see no operational advantage and can control the situation without search engines. More problems, fewer solutions and more searching. Less privacy and opinion rages. Privacy increases value or as anybody with a Gulfstream knows, it has operational advantages. You don’t have to waste time. You can always be on the offense instead of playing defense. They are doing a great job. The Tomahawks help. Think long-range and air-strike potential. The machine finds targets and no human searching is required. Lock-on and press a button. Boom!

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  9. I thought that advertising paid for the content? Will subscribers be getting ad-free articles?

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  10. It reminds me of Encarta trying to compete with Wikipedia…

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