News International announced this morning that, from June, we punters will have to cough up £2 a week to read the Times and Sunday Times online – a cool £104 a year.
The sound you hear is bloggers choking on their breakfast cereal.
The move makes a lot of sense for News International. True, their online readership will plummet. But, unlike most bloggers, Murdoch’s willy-waving is based on the size of his bank balance, not his number of unique visitors. Online advertising, for everyone except Google, hasn’t proved to be the magical money-making machine we were promised, and there’s only so much a business can give away.
We might like to read our news online for free, but we’re also the first to complain about poor standards of journalism, the “churnalism” reprinting of press releases and all the rest of it. If we want more hard news, more investigations, more fact checking, more “proper” journalism, we have to pay for it.
But it presents a real challenge to bloggers. The vast majority of us don’t get paid for our online efforts, and have neither the time nor the money to be full-time journos. Look through most blogs and you’ll find a high proportion of the stories come from the online mainstream media, often quoting a paragraph or two and linking to the source.
Wednesday’s Lib Dem Voice, for example, had the Daily View plus two pieces based on stories from the Mirror. Yesterday had even more.
What will more pay sites mean?
Bloggers may find themselves biased towards the free-to-read media. Even if the bloggers subscribe to read the pay media, the inability to link to content in a way readers can view it will cause issues.
Might it lead to groups of bloggers working more closely together? That could be a way to collectively subscribe to papers and gain the resources for more original journalism. Lib Dem Voice is run by a group of volunteers who achieve far more together than we could just running our own personal blogs (though we all have those too). Between us, we might be able to fund the subscriptions.
The trend towards pay sites will continue. The companies that run them are businesses which need to make a profit, and free-to-view media websites cost more that they raise in revenue.
The nightmare vision is the blogosphere turning into an extended Have Your Say thread – inward looking, all sound and no light, all opinion and no fact.
But blogging is still in its infancy. Even the most popular blogs have a tiny readership compared to the mainstream media. If we can use this as an opportunity to up our game, we might look back on it as a positive development; one of the kicks we need if the blogosphere is to reach its true potential.