Rupert Murdoch and Financial Times CEO John Ridding sure like talking about why newspapers should charge for content — but few papers have followed FT.com in charging and none are yet as squarely behind Murdoch. Ridding appears in yet another newspaper today (NYTimes.com), talking up the paid content paradigm. But what’s in it for them if other titles follow their lead?
FT.com MD Rob Grimshaw told me in an interview earlier this month: “We have been the black sheep of the industry for seven or eight years but we believe very passionately that it was the right thing to do…. We would like other publishers to join up”. He continues: “Our experience has been so positive — we can’t understand why they have been so reluctant.”
But why does the FT want to stop feeling like an outsider as the sole UK national newspaper to charge online? Put simply – if other, general-interest titles start asking for money, FT.com’s existing, high-end paid-for news might also seem worth handing over cash for. That would make it easier for FT.com to build on its current 117,000 paying subscribers. Likewise, the normally less open Murdoch is trying to soften up rivals to follow him in charging, fearing that, if he raised the wall alone, he might find readers knocking on other doors.
I asked Grimshaw whether the forthcoming Sundaytimes.co.uk could make a success of charging for content. No comment on that one, but he added: “In general, we don’t see any reason why paid content has to be confined to niche marketplaces.” It’s an uncomplicated plea to publishers to boost their revenues — and the FT’s — by supporting a single paid model.
But Ridding and Murdoch are well aware that if publishers clubbed together to so much as discuss an industry-wide willingness to charge — let alone a shared technology or cartel — the UK’s Competition Commission might express displeasure. So what better way to side-step that problem than by having the debate in public… ?
Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) CEO Sly Bailey and Guardian Media Group CEO Carolyn McCall told the Culture and Media Select Committee in June that competition laws banned them from meeting to talk about how to tackle “superdominant Google (NSDQ: GOOG) News”. Publishers in the US had to meet in private to escape the attention of anti-trust authorities. By making public statements, rather than agreeing private strategies, they escape risk of antitrust action…