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May 25 2010

07:52

Times and Sunday Times get new websites as Alton gets new job

We gave you a sneak preview of the Times’ new design a couple of weeks ago, but the new websites for The Times and Sunday Times have gone live today.

At the moment the homepage of each site is the only part freely available. Readers will have to sign up for an initial free trial, before a paywall comes down on both sites (£1 a day or £2 a week for access) in four weeks time.

Journalism.co.uk was given a talk through of the new site designs by their editorial teams last night, so we’ll be posting more details later, but for now see the homepages below or visit the sites.

Meanwhile former Observer and Independent editor Roger Alton is joining the Times as executive editor, according to this report from MediaGuardian.

TheSundayTimes.co.uk


TheTimes.co.uk

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April 16 2010

14:20

How Blocking Search Engines Can Increase Ad Click-Throughs

Search engines, RSS feeds and content aggregators make a reader's life easier by providing new ways to scan for articles and to discover news. One result of this is that readers may no longer feel the need to regularly visit their local paper's website in order to stay informed about the goings-on around town.

Following this logic, publishers work hard to make their content as searchable as possible, to make it accessible outside of a newspaper website. Conventional wisdom dictates that websites should be optimized for search engines.

But what if your content is very specific in nature? Suppose that you have a respected brand, and that people in your community look to you to provide information that is relevant to them? When newspapers give their readers alternative ways to access their information, they are gambling that the a la carte traffic coming back from the search engine will more than make up for the loss of direct traffic they previously received.

The theory goes that the easier your content is to find, the more traffic your site will receive. But a recent experiment by a few newspapers in Northern California suggests there's value in keeping come content away from search engines and aggregators.

Papers Prevent Search Engines, Aggregators

During the first quarter of 2008, three small newspapers in Northern California with website pay walls edited their robots.txt files to disallow search engines and aggregators from indexing any content on their websites. I am vice president of digital media for the newspapers in question. I run web strategy, sales and operations for dailyrepublic.com, davisenterprise.com, and mtdemocrat.com. We made the change when local advertisers started buying Google AdWords instead of ads on our website. Realtors, for example, buy the keywords "Fairfield Real Estate News" and advertise on our content through Google, which is not good for us.

As a result, management at the papers decided to cut off search engines and aggregators. You can view some of the results here:

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As the charts above illustrate, website traffic has grown steadily in each of the four key metrics we studied. What was most surprising, however, was the impact this change had on our ad-serving effectiveness. The click-through rate for ads rose from a modest 0.29 percent in 2008 to an average of 2.87 percent today on paid access pages. (You can also view some related data here. It compares paid and free websites of similar size.)

It appears that for these papers, traffic volume alone does not impact click-through rates. What I'm suggesting is positive correlation between increased reader frequency and the click-through rate. Frequency is key to generating advertising response. Simply put: Newspapers who give their readers too many ways to read their content may be inadvertently destroying the advertising effectiveness that sustains their business.

I am not trying to convince you that every website should block search engines, or that newspapers should all try pay walls. But I implore the news community to consider that it is plausible for a news organization to thrive without search engine traffic.

It's a concept that stirs up emotional responses from many in the news industry -- but it deserves more logical contemplation.

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March 26 2010

17:43

PayPal Hopes to Lure Publishers to Its Micropayment System

With all the talk about paid content coming back into vogue (thanks, Rupert Murdoch!), it's a wonder that PayPal hasn't been part of the conversation. The tech startup that's now part of eBay has been dominant in handling online payment transactions and is projected to have $5 billion in sales by 2011, according to Bloomberg. But so far, a grand total of just one major newspaper publisher has shown interest in PayPal's offer to handle their online payments: FT.com.

Sam Shrauger, PayPal.JPG

Why the slow uptake for PayPal? I talked with Sam Shrauger, vice president of global product strategy for PayPal, who said the problem is that publishers are still unsure what their business model will be online. It turns out that FT.com is more aggressive than most at charging for online content. The site already has a "metered wall" that lets people read a certain number of free articles per month; a new trial test with PayPal might charge people for daily or weekly access to articles -- and perhaps micropayments down the road.

PayPal has had a micropayments product for a few years. It charges publishers a smaller fee per transaction that regular PayPal for merchants. But even that micropayment fee structure -- 5 cents per transaction plus 5 percent of the value -- is way too high for publishers who want to charge pennies per article. PayPal is now working on a new model for micropayments that will allow publishers to process transactions as a group in order to lower the overall charges.

"The challenge is how do you make a $1 transaction attractive to everyone from an economic standpoint," Francesco Rovetta, director of PayPal's mobile unit, told Bloomberg at SXSW. "We are finalizing the development of that business model."

Meanwhile, I spoke to Shrauger in-depth last month to get an update on where PayPal was going, and how it would woo content sites to use its payment services. The following is an edited transcript of our phone conversation.

Many publishers are looking for a payment system or micropayment system for their online content. Tell me more about what you offer them.

Sam Shrauger: We recognized the need back in 2005 for publishers of any kind of content to cost effectively process small transactions. We introduced about four years ago micropayment processing which are intended for people selling things in small dollar or sub-dollar increments. Pricing is probably the biggest issue that publishers run into, because the cost for processing is prohibitive for them. We've introduced a pricing mechanism that is a fixed fee of 5 cents plus 5 percent of the transaction value that's intended to be cost effective for publishers.

Our core offerings to all our merchants -- whether it's retail or content -- is to provide them safe, secure and cost-effective payment processing, and do it in a way that's fast, easy and safe for their consumers. So we've combined that pricing structure with all our publisher or merchant products to allow them to have a payment platform that works for their business.

So you are charging 5 cents plus 5 percent for whatever the micropayment is?

Shrauger: Right. Our typical pricing structure is anywhere from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent of the transaction value plus a 30-cent fixed fee. That's obviously not something that works well for folks who are selling items or content that's under $10, so that's why we introduced the micropayment system.

So who are some of the publishers that are using your micropayment system?

Shrauger: We have a variety of folks who are using that. We've had iTunes as a merchant going back to at least 2005. We have SpareChange, which is one of the big social media processors, and I can give you some other names. Napster is another one.

How does your offering compare to those of competitors such as Journalism Online and others?

Shrauger: I won't comment specifically on any competitors, but we see two camps of people trying to support payment needs. We are a payment processing provider, and what we intend to do for publishers or online merchants is make their payment processing cost effective and safe and easy. There are a variety of folks springing up around the operational management of paid content, people who help build the pay walls and manage digital rights that goes on around that. We see those folks as partners with whom we can work with to provide the operational functions so publishers can manage paid content.

Shrauger talks about how he is less concerned with competitors than he is with publishers working out their business model for paid content:

As far as the payment part of the transaction, do you feel like you have a head start on any new players in the space because you've been doing it so long?

Shrauger: I think there are a lot of dimensions in payment of digital content that are somewhat unique. In any form of digital content -- whether it's music or downloadable games or paid content -- there are some unique characteristics and we have experience dealing with them. In particular, there's a fair amount of fraud in the digital goods space, probably more than in any retail/commerce vertical. Fraud management is something we've build our business on, and I think we have the deepest experience in managing that risk in online transaction.

The second thing is convenience, particularly when you're talking about smaller dollar transactions. When you're talking about folks who want to pay to read an article or download a piece of content, that's not a transaction that consumers want to spend a lot of time in the checkout process for. One of the things PayPal has done for consumers is make the payment process safe and efficient for them. The speed of checkout is another place where we've distinguished ourselves.

And lastly, the micropayment structure that we are offering is very compelling. People say that they typically have to pay pretty high costs per transaction, and the PayPal micropayment rates are very effective for people wanting that.

How would you break down the revenues you get from regular PayPal payments and micropayments?

Shrauger: We don't break out those numbers publicly, but I would say that if you look at the overall world of e-commerce, I think paid content, which includes all digital goods, is about a $49 billion market this year. Relative to overall e-commerce which is about $250 billion to $300 billion. So paid digital content is smaller relatively to the total e-commerce market -- about 15 percent to 20 percent. And within that, micropayments are a fairly small but growing percentage of that market. We think it's about 25 percent of all digital content sold. So the market itself is not that large, but it's something that's starting to grow, and will grow even more as cost effective payment options come into the market. That's been the barrier to folks effectively managing businesses on a micro-transaction level.

Shrauger explains why PayPal is a better fit for newspaper publishers than Google for processing payments:

What were your challenges to get micropayments to work? Was that the main challenge or were there others?

Shrauger: The other challenge that's always a driver in this space is that the process for a user to make a micropayment has to be very brief. Whereas consumers are used to checking out with a full shopping cart experience and filling out some payment pages for a typical payment process for $50 or $100, that's not something they are interested in doing for a $1 or $3 transaction. The focus for us has been to make the actual process of payment as fast and efficient as possible for the consumer.

For people who have PayPal accounts already it's a very fast and quick experience.

paypal logo.jpg

The other thing I would add is the point around fraud. The other thing in the digital space is that the fraud rates tend to be higher than in other verticals largely because the goods are delivered instantly, as opposed to physical goods, where the merchant has time to check an order or check a customer before shipping the product to them. In the digital goods context, you make your payment and your game currency or whatever you're buying is available instantly, so it's something that can be turned around and resold really easily by a fraudster.

So how does the micropayment system at PayPal differ from the regular PayPal transaction?

Shrauger: What a lot of these merchants will do is, after a first payment with PayPal, they will allow you to make purchases without having to log in every single time you want to make that purchase. We have a product that allows them to initiate another transaction against your account without you having to log in every time. What that allows you to do is one-click payments effectively with those merchants.

If someone is trying to sell a micropayment that's literally 5 or 10 cents, that would be hard to do with PayPal if you are charging 5 cents, right?

Shrauger: There's obviously a floor to where micropayments processing for anyone is tenable. What I would say there is we're always looking for ways to make those transactions more cost effective and get pricing structures that will work across the entire spectrum of transaction sizes.

Shrauger explains how some merchants aggregate their own micropayments before processing them, similar to what iTunes does:

Is there anything else that publishers would like to see other than fraud protection?

Shrauger: Everything I read about paid content makes it seem like it's so binary: either paid content is going to work or it's not going to work. My perspective and PayPal's perspective is that there will be models that work in this industry and they will be very dependent on a lot of things. It will depend on the content and the demographic of who consumes that content, and where it's distributed. Every one of those business models might take a different form. Some will be successful on a subscription basis, others on a micropayment basis, others might be successful with a hybrid of those things. Our perspective is that we can offer the publisher the ability to operate their business in whatever way makes sense for them and not have the cost of payment processing be an impediment to that.

What about internationally? Do you see publishers outside the U.S. showing interest in payment systems as well?

Shrauger: Absolutely. I think it was in the fourth quarter of 2008 that we made our micropayments processing available worldwide, and we support 24 currencies now, and it's something we're continuing to expand. If you look globally everyone's wrestling with the same set of issues. Will consumers pay, and if so, in what fashion and in what amount? How do we then process those transactions? Those are global needs.

*****

What do you think about PayPal as a possible vendor for publishers who want to charge for their content? Is it a viable option or too expensive as currently set up? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

PayPal logo photo by Lava via Flickr.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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January 28 2010

19:43

College Media Should Ignore Siren Song of Pay Walls

The drumbeats are growing louder, as Rupert Murdoch, Steven Brill, and now the New York Times have confirmed: Pay walls or metered pricing systems for online news content will soon be coming to a high-profile website frequented by you. Too little, too late? Journalism's savior? A final nail-in-the-coffin separation between old and new media?

The implications for the news industry and Internet as a whole are enormous. For college media specifically, meters and walls could be a veritable game changer, a final helium burst in their rise to professional press-level prominence -- provided, of course, they turn them down.

At present, I can see no reason why college media outlets should erect pay walls or enact pricing meters for their online content. Some independent student newspapers with higher bottom lines have endured financial hiccups lately but, overall, college media are holding strong. A majority of outlets are fully or mostly supported. Staff work for free or are paid a pittance. Annual profit expectations are zero to uber-low.

With no pressing need to enhance their revenue streams, my advice is: Keep sites free. By offering readers an open window instead of a wall, college media can become more of a trusted, viable alternative to the pro-press pay plans.

Attracting the Mainstream

Beyond niche outlets like The Chronicle of Higher Education and rich information centers like the New York Times, most meters and walls will only be scaled by the most passionate readers. (For example, I used to read Variety online, but there is no way I am shelling out its new asking price of $248 per year.)

If enacted en masse, the new "walledoffedness culture," as a snarky colleague of mine calls it, will leave general web surfers in the lurch and looking for more affordable options. Cue college media. If they react to the meter/wall onslaught correctly, student outlets can entice these more routine news seekers, who are in the majority.

Making it work will require some changes in student media's editorial approach. Two main alterations are worth consideration.

1. Increase Off-Campus Reporting

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The web-age adage of how to succeed online is currently centered on hyper-localization. Cover a topic or geographic area like no one else, and your outlet will gain value for its uniqueness and market dominance. So far, student outlets have embraced this simply by continuing their long-established focus on campus and student news. But if the new journalism world is going to separate will-pay and won't-pay readers, some extra reporting about local and even national news could be a huge draw.

Last January, The Villanovan, a student newspaper at Villanova University, was criticized for failing to cover much of President Obama's Inauguration. At the time, editors offered a hyper-local response:

The Villanovan is and always has been the student paper of Villanova, not a national newspaper. There are four complimentary national papers on campus; students should turn to these for daily coverage. When you want to read about Villanova and students' reactions and reflections, though, we're your paper.

In the pay-era, this type of thinking might have to go. Readers may not be willing to pay for access to sites belonging to national or city papers. They might be looking for a free alternative, something relatively trusted that captures the pulse of their hometown. Offering some "outside" news may be a wonderful enticement to draw readers to student media sites. Hopefully people will also stay to read about what should always remain the student press's main focus: campus news, with a student-first editorial philosophy.

So, how do you add in this extra news component, especially since it's tough enough already to cover a single campus?

2. Extend Peer Content Sharing

We are living in a post-UWIRE world in which content distribution among college media is tougher than ever. (Though I have high hopes College News Network or a similar future initiative will save the day).

In order for student media sites to become more popular with casual news browsers, they will need to republish more news from their peers -- especially biggie items about, say, the recent special election in Massachusetts or the current Sundance Film Festival.

Most high-profile news events and issues have relevance to a school in some way -- at times simply because they occur near a campus -- so usually at least some student media will provide coverage and commentary. Student outlets looking to fill the gap created by pay walls should seize and display these news items more prominently on their sites, providing visitors a well-rounded glimpse of the world.

Strategy for Success

So to sum up, my three-point strategy for college media success in a walled-off news media world:

  1. Stick with local news reporting depth.
  2. Add national news breadth.
  3. Be an open window, not a pay wall.

In a New York Times piece about pay plans, Rupert Murdoch is described as a Pied Piper hoping to lead a mass of media to pay-walled nirvana. My advice to college media is simple: Do not follow Murdoch the Piper. Remember that in the fairy tale, the children are lured by the lovely music into a cave, never to be heard from again...

Dan Reimold is a visiting assistant professor of journalism at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the daily blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book on a major modern college media trend, "Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy and a Student Journalism Revolution," is due out later this year by Rutgers University Press.

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January 13 2010

00:46

How WSJ Uses Social Media from Behind a Pay Wall

We're not even a month into 2010 and The Economist has already declared it to be "The year of the pay wall."

"There are plenty of examples of paid content thriving even when free alternatives are available," according to the magazine. "Punters are happy to pay for multichannel television even though commercial broadcast television is free. Such alternatives thrive because they offer desirable content. One considerable advantage to building a pay wall is that it forces newspapers to think hard about what their customers (as opposed to their advertisers) might really want."

That's a positive spin on pay walls. But a recent Ipsos/PHD survey found that 55 percent of consumers "would be very or extremely unlikely to pay for online newspaper or magazine content."

The Wall Street Journal is cited as an example of the right way to build and maintain a pay wall. Owner Rupert Murdoch, who acquired the paper after it built its wall, has said that people are willing to pay for content in newspapers, and thus people will be willing to pay for content online.



Murdoch called Google, Microsoft, and Ask.com "people which simply pick up everything and run with it and steal our stories." (Though the paper does allow some Google-referred users to read some WSJ articles for free.) But the paper still wants to see its content linked and cited via social media. And it wants to be part of the conversations taking place on Facebook, Twitter and other places. But how can it engage with social media when it locks its journalism behind a pay wall?



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In an interview, Journal deputy managing editor Alan Murray said the paper doesn't want to rely on one source of traffic, meaning Google. He also noted that three of the major social media platforms -- Facebook, Digg, and Twitter -- are among WSJ's top 20 referrers. Thirty percent comes from Yahoo and Google.


"We have a strong brand," Murray said. "Half of our traffic comes through the front door."



Murray said social media is at present a comparatively small source of traffic. But he also spoke of its potential to drive readers who could eventually become paid subscribers.

Examples of WSJ's Social Media Activities

Though it can't promote and share the content created and then locked down on its website, the paper has worked to incorporate social media. Last year, Murray interviewed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner during a "Digg Dialogg." Geithner answered questions submitted and voted on by Digg users.

Murray also created a Future of News Twitter List, a "list of top tweeters discussing the future of news." Murray said he uses Twitter Lists to recommend the best Twitter sources within a particular niche, and added that some of those sources are Journal staff members. That helps promote the Journal's work because the staffers often talk about and link to their work on Twitter.


The Wall Street Journal was also one of the first organizations to use the Loomia Facebook App to show users which WSJ stories were read by their friends. (They eventually took it down because of performance issues.) Murray disclosed that the paper is in the process of closing a new partnership with Facebook, though he won't reveal details.



He also said the WSJ is developing social applications in-house. These will include widgets to highlight related and contextual content, in addition to its iPhone and BlackBerry apps.



Of course, all this content promoted through social media is meant to get readers to buy an online subscription to WSJ.com. Murray said that the Journal's business model of providing free peripheral content to sell its "core business in financial coverage" is the future of news.

Newsday's Pay Wall Goes Up, Traffic Drops

The WSJ has had years to develop a strategy to promote and share its content from behind the pay wall. If this is indeed the "year of the pay wall," many other organizations are going to have to learn to do the same.

After New York's Newsday locked most of its content behind a paywall, its web traffic dropped by 21 percent. On top of that, longtime Newsday columnist, Saul Friedman, resigned over the decision to charge. One of the reasons he cited for his resignation was that a pay wall would prevent him from sending his column to people who don't subscribe to Newsday.

newsdayfacebook.jpg

An editor wasn't made available to comment on Newsday's strategy in an interview, but its website prominently promotes the paper's presence on major social media platforms. Newsday currently runs a Facebook fan page with over 800 fans, and the publication also maintains a Facebook profile for Newsday founder Alicia Patterson, called Alicia P. Newsday. Newsday's Twitter account is followed by over 600 users.

When asked about its strategy for social media promotion from behind the pay wall, a Newsday spokesperson replied by email to note that a "share" button, which allows visitors to submit content to various social sites, is available above each story.

The question, however, is who'll be clicking on that button now that the content is locked down?

Neal Rodriguez is a social media consultant who features some of the smartest mashups on the web and interviews some of the brightest minds operating online. Neal writes for the Huffington Post. Neal helps drive influxes of traffic to some of the biggest web properties on the planet while pulling his son's Hot Wheels off his keyboard in Queens, New York.

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