"Calling it a paywall sounds like it's a tall impenetrable barrier that only Hercules can break down," pondered the FT's digital chief recently. "Why don't we call it paying for content, just like paying for milk or bread?"
Come September, the Telegraph too will be milking its nodes for cash, according to reports in the marketing trade press. The newspaper group is said to be exploring options with ad agencies to adopt a 'hybrid' or 'metered' model used by the FT and WSJ, with a September launch in mind. Under this model, you get to glimpse a story, or read a limited number of stories in their entirety, before you're asked to pay. The FT introduced the scheme in 2007, with a ration of 30 stories per free registered user.
The move has been rumoured for some weeks. In response, the Telegraph says it is keeping all its options open. The Telegraph, like other papers, has spent a small fortune in building up a web audience of 31 million, chasing web fads with the dignity of a Dad at a Disco. In 2009 the Tele's digital director was openly considering the advantages of handing over "distribution, technology, and a good share of ad sales to Google as a platform so the paper could concentrate on its real job" – which is, apparently, journalism.
But how fashions change. Giving control to Google is now seen as a liability, not an advantage – and control of distribution is key to any business where the wares need to be seen, sniffed or felt. Losing most of the 31 million casuals who make up the Telegraph's web audience may not be such a disadvantage if it can extract some value from the loyalists. Ad agencies naturally love qualified upmarket readers, and with the web, they've never been sure they've been getting them.
A pay-walled Telegraph would leave the UK's 10th and 11th best-selling newspapers (the Grauniad and the Independent) battling it out as the only "quality" nationals fully available to skinflints, and chasing a diminishing core audience of teachers and sustainability outreach officers. ®