The Paywalled Times: An Online Private Members’ Club?

And so it begins.

After a launch event last night (which was invited to but was unable to attend, alas), The Times and The Sunday Times have begun the four week transition to their new online model. The new sites are live already, and, in four weeks’ time, the old sites will be frozen for good, and the paywall will go up around the new ones. You already have to register to see the new content.

The journo blogs are full of discussion on the subject, and I’ll spare you my analysis of the sites as they appear now, as I don’t have much to add beyond efforts like, say, Malcolm Cole’s. Some people have gone as far as to say that this is an anti-social media, dead end effort

I disagree.

I think there’s a concept hidden in this that most people have missed. Recent statements by people working on the project have given us two clear ideas:

  • They expect to lose 90% of their traffic in this process
  • They will enforce “real name” commenting and discussion within the paywall

And where does that leave us? Well, to me, this opens up the possibility that what News International are actually trying to create is, in essence, a private members’ club. There will be a limited number of people joining in on discussion, largely around content. James Harding even highlights the fact that the content should trigger the question “What do you think?” in the video above. People sharing what they think will be identifiable, and they will have paid an entrance fee to get in there. This is, in fact, a community model, just one that differs from the wide, inter-connected community model we’re used to on the open web.

I recall Lee Bryant saying at last year’s Social Media Influence conference that sometimes its the wall that defines the community. And that maxim will be tested on these sites.

Now, if this is what The Times is attempting, it’s a very interesting experiment, and one that I’ll be watching with a great deal of interest.

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  • Captain_Razzle

    Won’t this invalidate the community commentary? At the moment, anyone can comment on a contentious piece; from now, the only commenters will be those who pay to take the times which will make it far more polarised.

    I fail to see any advantage to a secret commentary club… “I’m so exercised about his that I’m only going to talk about it to people who agree with me! Shhh!”

  • Adam Tinworth

    Well, under the new structure, nobody will see the content or debate, apart from those who pay. It’s pay, or nothing at all.

    I doubt it will all be broad agreement – The Times is less directly aligned towards the political left or right than The Guardian or the The Telegraph, so I expect there to be a range of views – as long as they can get enough people to sign up. Successful community does need to have a critical mass.

  • Good post, I think they have got a bit of a business model here. I’ve said in a couple of places – would you rather have 100,000 unique visitors a month, scattered, mainly unengaged and not paying. Or would you rather have 10,000 unique visitors, engaged, with data and paying a fee. I think I know which one might be more useful to a lot of advertisers.