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AND Cold On Paywall: ‘Readers Have No Willingness To Pay’

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Mail Online and DMGT’s local newspaper websites seem unlikely to follow in Rupert Murdoch’s footsteps toward the paywall, at least for now.

Associated Northcliffe Digital CEO Richard Titus tells paidContent:UK: “I wish him a lot of luck. For rare and scarce content, a paywall is a great way to monetise it. But when you have commodity content, it’s very hard to charge for it.

“We’re watching with interest everything that’s going on in the market. Our view is, we aim to satisfy our customers – and they haven’t shown a willingness to pay for content. There are other ways to monetise, though we reserve the right to reexamine that at a later date. There’s a lot more we can do before asking users to get out their wallet.”

Could a News Corp-style Mail-on-Bing search deal be one of those things? Titus won’t discuss the idea, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t see opportunities around. “I am a firm believer in paying for convenience,” said the former BBC mobile controller, who is more optimistic about the chance of charging for news on the go, perhaps on e-readers. “What’s the extended value of our subscription?,” he adds.

— AND saw profits fall £5 million in DMGT’s year-to-date earnings, but Titus says it was largely deliberate, coming after planned marketing spends on Jobsite (£2.7 million) and (£154,180) in the financial year that, while planned before the downturn, have yielded 64.5 percent and 48 percent uplifts, respectively, in brand awareness. “We took some money and we reinvested it and the TV spend, with today’s lower rates, has paid off,” he says. “Keeping revenues where they are compared to the catastrophic events in classifieds is actually a good story.”

— About 100 days after joining, Titus has been eliminating costs: “I’ve cut almost a million pounds in 90 days out of this business. AND was projected to lose money when I entered the building. I spent some time looking at how to save costs, including search engine marketing. Now we are marginally profitable.”

— But AND revenue did dip 20 percent to £70 million in what a spokesperson tells us was “the worst cyclical decline in internet classifieds history“. AND’s ad sales business has been buoyed by deals to sell or power ads for, and Johnston Press, but no-one’s out of the woods yet. Titus is keen on innovating toward newly relevant local advertising: “Small and medium enterprises are really interested in working in the digital landscape – but they need a way of doing that’s safe and healthy.”

— Next for cuts: Teletext. Titus is keen to stress that recent reports the whole TV service is closing in December are inaccurate. “We are not winding down Teletext in any shape or form. We’re restructuring it because analogue TV is being shut off.” The Freeview counterpart, the Rabbit dating service, web outlets and some other parts will remain, but announcements are due on a restructure next week…