COMMENT: Jim Duffy looks at beating the paywall barrier – through choice

How much do we value journalism that we will pay for it online, asks Duffy.
How much do we value journalism that we will pay for it online, asks Duffy.
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Paying for something we value is commonplace.

We pay for our food, fuel to get us from A to B, and mobile phone contracts to keep us in the loop. Operating in any of these industries presents a broad church of customers willing to pay up.

Some will pay a premium and opt for ­better brands, engine-cleaning petrol – whatever that is – and more features. But what about news? Are you willing to pay for it? How much do we value journalism that we will pay for it online? Or is there a better model that sits well with you?

The newspaper industry is a very tough and competitive place to operate in. The power of Fleet Street, as it was then, to command the news has been eroded with the introduction of digital. I recall being a young paper boy delivering the Evening Times. My customers had no access to the amazing wizardry we have these days in instant tech. No iPhones, no tablets, no on-demand TV, no super-fast laptops with touch technology to pull up what was going on in the world.

No, they sat patiently waiting for me to deliver their Evening Times to find out which bookies had been robbed, who was the super-gran of the year and who won the three o’clock at Kempton. Today’s papers are not delivered by hand, but on the whole available digitally and 24 hours. This has newspaper owners in a quandary.

Selling newspapers is sacrosanct. Having your newspaper stocked by ScotRail, ­Costa Coffee or in top hotels is a big win. But, achieving that scale and reaching a wider audience needs further examination. And it appears there are two ways to do this that leads me to conclude that newspapers will have to make a decision to stay afloat in the future – whether to use a paywall.

The paywall, in my opinion, does not work. In essence, it allows the reader – you – to get the first paragraph of an article or access to, say, five articles in a fortnight before it asks you to register and pay. You then have to enter your details, providing the newspaper with your data. Then eventually, you have to add a payment method, which again takes time and causes friction to your enjoyment of the news process.

Some publications swear by their ­paywalls and now rely on any income ­generated as part of their operating income and not the icing on the cake. This is a dangerous way to run a business, in my opinion. Paywalls are a fundamentally flawed business model going against the best interests of journalists and their readers. In the next decade, I predict, they will all be removed as a failed experiment.

However, there is a second route and I would suggest a better motivation for ­journalists and readers. It’s called free. Yes, offer all your online readers all of the ­content that your team produce free of charge. No paywalls, annoying greyed-out text or add-ons. Simply provide great journalism and create a tribe of people that respect it, feel they get value from it and want to support it. And herein lies the magical ingredient to the 21st century consumer with millennial values or indeed millennials in the home. The creation of a tribe who align themselves with the journalism is key to making them feel part of the newspaper or publication.

Hence, I have subscribed to The Guardian. Did I ever think I would read, and indeed pay, The Guardian for its content? No, I did not, but I have grown to enjoy its perspective the same way I enjoy The Scotsman’s perspective as a Scottish publication. What I like about The Guardian’s approach is that it gives me a whole load of options on how I can became a supporter or ambassador, while making me feel special. I am now one of the tribe, but I am not yet a lentil-eating, sandal-wearing hippy. Never say never…

Journalism is important, whether it be Scottish or UK-focused. The next decade is crucial in the evolution of the newspaper industry. I’d rather contribute freely feeling valued, than be stymied by a paywall. Where do you sit?

Jim Duffy is co-founder of Moonshot ­Academy and author of Create Special.