Time paywall: Dont write it off just yet

times paywall

There have been many confusing messages in the media about the success or failure of the Times paywall.  Competitor publications have predictably claimed it to be a huge failure; other figures suggest a drop off of two thirds readership from free to paid is a success against the 90% drop off the Times had expected.  Claims that the Times is now “an empty world” seem inconclusive with the publication themselves have declined to comment.

For me, whatever level the user base has dropped to, this is just phase 1 of the paywall process, and it will be the next 6-12 months that dictate the true success of the paywall as it begins to take shape and there are a number of key factors which will determine its true success.

Quality of content

If you are going to charge people for access to news articles and opinion, it’s going to have to be better than other articles available for free elsewhere.  The Times will have to ensure their editorial content is going to have to be of a higher quality than their competition to justify the charge and prove that the money is going to good use.

Advertising revenues

Just because the paywall is in place doesn’t mean the Times has written off advertising as a revenue channel, far from it.  In fact having registered users in a closed network opens up a host of additional options for targeted advertising.  Historically advertising in newspapers and on their online versions has been done based on readership and audience profiles.  The information required to sign up for the paywall will enable the Times to offer targeting options based on an individual user, rather than an aggregated version of the whole group.  This type of targeting general allows for more premium pricing and if they manage to do it intelligently could generate serious income.

Word of mouth

At the moment the Times are the bad guys for charging for content.  A small group have decided to stick with it and if the Times can prove the value to this group, then this group will become key to future growth.  When people find out that somebody pays for the Times content, they are bound to ask “why?”, and “whats it like?”, if the response is positive you have a potential new buyer, if its neutral or negative, then you don’t.  If the response is “awesome, great content, a great read and well worth the money” then word will spread.

The competition

The Times are the first to introduce a paywall in traditional press, but I doubt they will be the last.  Other online publications are going to have to find their own way to make sure revenues generated online cover the overheads of delivering the content.  Whilst the competition can sit back and suggest the paywall is a failure for now, there is going to come a point where they have to decide what the route forward for their own online strategy is.  And if it materialises that other follow down the paywall route, then the Times will be ahead of the game in terms of making it work.

It’s all about building momentum

All of these points will contribute to building momentum (or not).  If you present great editorial to current users, they will spread the word and your user base will grow.  Continue to add even more great content and value, and you build a snowball effect.  Similar with the advertising, if you build a solid advertising model and targeting options you might convince a few media buyers to give it a go, if it’s good, word will spread.  Obviously this requires the Times to get a few things right.  If the content isn’t good, or the advertising model is poor, then momentum won’t build and things might go into meltdown.  There’s a long road ahead, but it definitely can’t be deemed a success or failure just yet.

Which Client Gets More?

Agency client relationships can be interesting to say the least. I have a fair amount of agency side experience dealing with clients who I have been providing digital marketing services for and I can safely say that no two relationships are the same. I’ve dealt with clients who don’t seem to want to speak with you, clients who never leave you alone, clients who understand digital marketing, clients who don’t and all variations of client in between. But who gets the most out of the agency? Which is the best client for building a conducive long term relationship?

Mid adult businessman yelling on mobile phone outdoorsThe constantly demanding client often gets what they want in the short term, they will huff and puff and in many cases their account manager will be pressured into running around like an idiot to service them.  Long term however this client is going to lose out.  When it comes to added value, client niceties, or the impending contract renewal this client isn’t going to get treated the best.  The agency will realise they are over-servicing(assuming they are) and demand a higher fee, or the account manager will begin to resent the client and deliver substandard service or at least minimal effort will be put into their work.  Ultimately the client is going to lose out.

On the flip side you have the client who leaves the agency to it, and doesn’t engage them too much in their work.  This is great from a cost efficiency stand point for the agency, but is it going to make them work hard for their cash?  Not in the long term.  Work will be put in for a while but as soon as a conflict of time occurs, or workloads increase, it is likely to be this client who misses out.

I suppose its a question of timing.  Be strong and demanding when you have to be, but make sure you respect your agencies work and the time it takes and let them get on with it.  If you are happy with your agency, don’t be demanding for the sake of it, they will only resent you for it.

So Where Have I Been?

I think that’s 31 days between posts, what can I say, I’ve been busy! Busy building. Building relationship, building products, building teams, and building strategies which will hopefully lead to the building of an empire!

Oh, and I have been out and about speaking a little too. Once again for the Fresh Business Thinking guys and their excellent Hit Me Summit. Below is the presentation I gave on Holistic Search: How to Combine PPC and SEO Effectively, it made a lot more sense with the commentary but might be of use for those who were there.

I Just Cant Stop Searching You

It seems like Michael Jackson and more importantly his reach and fan base, is actually bigger than the Internet can handle.  The king of pop’s demise brought the Internet to a standstill this week as Google interpreted the spike in searches for his name as a malware attack and users querying it received an error message for a period of around 25 mins.  Microblogging tool twitter crashed through the sheer volume of users logging on to the service and performance issues were reported on usually reliable services such as AOL, Yahoo and CNN.

It takes some sort of surge to bring down Google and it is difficult to think of any other occurrence other than some sort of natural disaster which would have had the same sort of effect on the Internet in a 24 hour period.  It is surely also making the affected services question their ability to handle large volumes of traffic in a short period of time, it would appear that in exceptional circumstances, their infrastructure simply isn’t up to the task.

Surge in Michael Jackson Searchs Brought Down Google

Surge in Michael Jackson Searchs Brought Down Google

This instance also shows a changing shift in how people are turning to the Internet for up to date information.  As SERPs speed up their indexing, and twitter continues to be the go to location for breaking news, when people hear of a news story in passing, their immediate response is to head to the nearest Internet service, be that mobile or computer based, and use the web to find out the details of said story.  In times gone by the answer would have been to turn on the TV, or wait for the next scheduled news bulletin, but in a time of immediacy this is no longer quick enough.  if you want an answer now, you turn to twitter or the SERPs.

Undoubtedly the question will come in future years, “where were you when you heard about jacko?” And for many people it appears the answer will be “I was at my computer when somebody twittered it”.

It is an ironic fact, that after his unfortunate demise last week at the age of 50.  Michael Jackson will sell enough records in the next few weeks, and earn enough radio airtime to erase the debt problems caused by years of frivolity and legal bills from fighting off child abuse accusations.  You cant turn on the radio it seems at the moment without hearing a Michael Jackson song, he has no fewer than 14 singles in the itunes top 20, 9 albums in the itunes top 10, and music stores such as HMV have big displays of his work around shops.

michael jackson itunes top 20

Jacko will go down in history as one of the greats, and will hopefully be remembered for his musical brilliance rather than his car crash personal life, but he may also go down as the man who brought the Internet to its knees.