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UK Times’ Paid Sites Will Turn Search Engines Away From Stories

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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, 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”.

26 Responses to “UK Times’ Paid Sites Will Turn Search Engines Away From Stories”

  1. solitoliquido

    I guess this is the price to pay for the excellent output of hard working journalists! It’s very hard to argue against the idea but I’d imagine that they have also thought seriously about how they will attract new readership and to grow their base!

  2. bignlibog

    there are other search engines or meta-crawlers not in the main streaml. I was a total fan of Google years ago but as it became the AOL of search engines aka internet for dummies, I found several much better alternatives. I will not name the ones I use but they all incorporate not only Google but a dozen other search engines to provide the end user with results, the way meta-crawlers were originally envisioned to be. just use any search engine and look up “meta-crawlers” or “metacrawlers” and give some a try until you get one you like. so basically “Einstein” Murdoch has only blocked slackers and those who are mostly clueless on how the internet functions from accessing his site/s. as a side note has anyone ever noticed how Murdoch looks and acts much like Mr. Burns on the Simpsons? just my honest opinion, rotflmao wonder who is his Smithers? or does he have several? Murdoch is the historical equivalent of William R. Hearst whose primary concerns are power and money. social responsibility, accurate journalism, ethics, moral values are not part of his game plan, never have been never will. come to think of it he also resembles Davros from the old Dr Who series…

  3. Wonderful!
    I’d say, this is the best way to loose international readership. I have neither enough time nor enough money to focus at only one media source. If I’m researching about events and breaking news etc., I’m trying to get as many sources as possible, worldwide. It were for me unthinkable to subscribe several news sources at a time, especially if I cannot devote all my time to reading only one source (because paying does mean more than just occasional reading). I would be rather able to pay archive access, but not for actual news.

    If The Times will close even the “sneak-view-modus” to its articles, and if it won’t be indexed in google news (which I am often use for the most wide panoramic view at the event I’m researching about), this source will just stop to exist for me, it will be put into Oblivion, so to say. Because I won’t be able to know, what they are writing about, and this wall is not really motivating on the way of research.

    Maybe, the regular readers – who are over 18 – will subscribe this service, but I think, it will fail one day, and UK Times come to a dilemmatic situation: either to open their web contents for free access, or to leave online distribution way and to continue just with paper medium. Back to the roots. There are only two possibilities. Tertium non datur.

  4. The Times has previewed its new paywall system, to keep readers, search engines and other criminals from using it to download cars, to the sound of champagne corks popping at the Guardian, Telegraph and BBC.

    The newspaper will now require payment of £1 a day for its unique and high-quality editorial viewpoints, as taken from the Sun and rewritten in big words. The site also blocks anyone under 18 from registering, in order to keep the paper’s quality demographic aging nicely.

    “I firmly support this move,” said everyday citizen on the street and certainly not Guardian editor at all Alan Rusbridger. “In fact, it should be ten pounds a day. Ten pounds a story. Then people will really see it as high-quality merchandise and not rewritten press releases and news feeds with Mr Murdoch dictating the editorial page.”

    “It’s ours,” said James Murdoch, frothing slightly. “You thieving bastards steal our copyright every time you save a copy into your heads! Well, we’ll fix your little wagon. It’s a pound a day plus a pound a copy behind your eyes plus a pound a copy you talk about with anyone else plus a pound a copy just fucking because. It’s for me and Dad and you can just fuck off. And when we buy the BBC we won’t let you watch that either. Arseholes.”

    “OK, the champagne is Thunderbird Sparkling,” said Mr Rusbridger. “Times are tough, you know. But I have complete faith we’re on the right path and the Times is doomed. I told ’em, I told ’em. Spare fiddy pee for a Polly Toynbee column? God bless you, sir!”

    “I am one hundred percent behind paying for quality journalism,” said free culture activist Hiram Nerdboy, 17. “That’s why I just gave fifty quid to Wikileaks.”

    Blog post:

  5. writerly1

    “Tim Eslip
    Today 10:58 AM
    I thought that advertising paid for the content? Will subscribers be getting ad-free articles?”

    Don’t know about the ad-free articles, but advertising is still slipping, especially for print media and even for everything but the very largest newspapers-on-line. National advertising might still have a role, ads for Coke or Dewars, but consider that it is of no value for Harry’s Butcher Shop on Main Street in Podunk to have one million people see his online ad. Only three of them are from Podunk. Online advertising for most online newspapers is so different from locally based print advertising paradigms that nobody can figure out what to do with it. And the big advertisers are figuring out they don’t need actual ads sometimes; enter “hammer” in a search engine and Lowe’s and Home Depot pop up in the top 10 in the U.S. on the free search. Why waste money advertising when you have that kind of search engine draw?

    Information is getting to be a kind of a “pure play.” If you want the information, you pay for it, no more selling your eyeballs to people trying to move products. It shifts the paradigm. There should be room in this for entrepreneurial startups specializing in highly niched information for people willing to pay for it. Might not be enough people in Podunk to make it work, but the beauty of the Web is that you reach every Podunk out there and have critical mass even with a geographically dispersed demographic.

    Whether Murdoch and the other dinosaur drivers can convert their slow, cumbersome monsters into something viable for the new paradigm remains to be seen, obviously. But it does very much seem like strapping a jet engine onto a horse-drawn wagon and hoping for the best….

  6. iduncan: “As far as I’m aware, The Sun and News of the World won’t be going behind a paywall.”

    Murdoch’s committed that the whole kaboodle’s going a la Times.

    You’re right about I think it occupies a particular part in the market – it’s a TV play, or at least allied to one, and TV, unlike print, is still making good money as a good advertising medium.

  7. iduncan

    @Marc – Mr Murdoch has pretty much nothing to lose, across his properties he’s experimenting with pretty much every model going. As far as I’m aware, The Sun and News of the World won’t be going behind a paywall, WSJ has slightly different pay model, Sky News website stays free. Don’t know about his other properties but he’s got plenty of room to play around.

    I think the issue about missing a whole generation of subscribers is significant too, right now everyone knows what the Times is and represents, that might not be the case a few years down the line.

  8. race4space

    I used to like reading the occasional times article , when directed by a search engine to the site.

    I would say they are putting the wall too far out, and should be moved in quite a bit.

    I doubt the Times journalists will relish seeing their opinion/influence diminished.

  9. Philip

    As someone who scans seven global newspapers a day online, it will simply drop to six.

    I do pay for some journalism but with two exceptions whom I will miss reading, the writers on the Times are neither interesting nor influential enough to be worth paying £104 a year for.

    Difficult to see how this approach will attract new readers and the writers will presumably demand more of Murdoch’s shilling to be hidden away.

  10. Carey

    So let me get this straight… when a big news story breaks people will flock to Google to search for places to go read about it. They will find numerous sites giving the information away for free. They won’t be able to see that your site even exists…

    and you think this will make you money?

  11. Regardless of how a paywall may operate — daily fee, weekly subscription, pay-per-article, etc. — Rupert Murdoch may be journalism’s only hope for survival. As someone who has labored in this field for years, and watched as one news source after another crumbled, I’m happy to hear that someone finally believes our product (intelligent, reliable information) is valuable enough to actually charge money for it.

    People get the journalism they deserve, and some of us deserve better than Jon Stewart’s giggling countenance or Arianna Huffington’s inane blather.

    Charge ahead, Rupert!

  12. Time Travel Writer

    “…a platform aimed at disrupting the Associated Press monopoly over content distribution to newspapers. With Publish2 News Exchange, newspapers can replace the AP’s obsolete cooperative with direct content sharing and replace the AP’s commodity content with both free, high-quality content from the Web and content from any paid source.”

    There are lots of paid sources and we’re free from monopoly, which in the end consumes itself after it consumes the competition. It’s a competitive world and getting more competitive all of the time. That’s the price you pay and obsolete costs you everything. You won’t need to search for it. It’ll stream and scale up. As long as it pays.

  13. NeilAyres

    @Tim, you don’t get ad-free magazines or newspapers, yet you pay for them. Not that I think this is in anyway the right move, nor consistent with what the web is actually for. It strikes me as an effort to shore-up print sales more than anything.

  14. Time Travel Writer

    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!

  15. derrick_burke

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

  16. Time Travel Writer

    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.”

  17. 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!

  18. Jared Kimmel

    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.