Hard News by Russell Brown

45

Over the paywall?

This time last year, it seemed a cert that both our big newspaper sites -- Stuff and the New Zealand Herald Online -- would adopt paywalls. That is, stop being free and start charging for access, probably after a set number of free visits per month -- the so-called "metered paywall" approach taken by the New York Times.

Well, it still hasn't happened. And maybe it won't. Senior editorial staff at Stuff's owner, Fairfax, have been told there will be no paywall and the model will not be the New York Times but the eyeballs-and-data-capture strategy of Daily Mail and Buzzfeed.

I asked Fairfax Media managing director Simon Tong for comment and received a reply from marketing director Campbell Mitchell. He said Fairfax has developed a "paid content strategy" but isn't in a position discuss it right now.

Mitchell formerly helped run the metered news paywall at Murdoch paper The Australian, which starts at $4 a week for web and app access and moves up through various print subscription bundles. The paper was an early mover but currently still has only 70,000 subscribers, which isn't sustainable. One solution may be dividing up and selling particular categories of content, rather than just selling the paper en bloc.

If Fairfax was to abandon or rein in its paywall plans, that would put the Herald in an interesting position, given that the assumption has been that the two would watch each other like two match-racing yachts and reveal their paid content plans at roughly the same time. (At one point there was even talk of Stuff and the Herald sharing a paywall.) No one wants to be the outfit that started charging while the other guy is free and easy.

But I suspect the Herald doesn't need such a prompt. They've considered a number of strategies this year without apparently coming to a conclusion on the exact way forward. Going paywall just doesn't seem the no-brainer it did a year ago.

So what are the choices? And why are clickbait headlines, listicles and sidebars-of-shame apparetly grabbing the momentum? I'll be talking to digital analyst and strategist Eric Rowe about how it all works on this week's Media Take.

After that, I'll be asking NZ On Air chief executive Jane Wrightson what the agency is taking from the results of Where are the audiences?, a fascinating and well-constructed media use survey commissioned by NZ On Air and conducted by Colmar Brunton. The survey has rankled some digital-frontier types who imagined that using a VPN to watch Netflix is normal behaviour, but I'm not terribly surprised by its finding that broadcast TV and radio still have overwhelmingly the greatest reach.

The show will open with Toi Iti's look at the imperatives of Te Wiki o Te Reo, followed up with an interview with Pita Paraone.

The show screens on Maori Television tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 10.30pm, but you're welcome to get an early look and come along to our recording this evening. Just be at the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ (it's a building site at the moment, but it's there) at 5.30pm.

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