Clay Shirky has posted an interesting editorial looking at the paywalls of Rupert Murdoch’s Times and Sunday Times in relation to paywalls in general. He notes that there is nothing that really makes Murdoch’s paywalls any different from other paywalls of the past and present, but there is a difference in the way people are looking at them.

What is new about the Times’ paywall–what may in fact make it a watershed–isn’t strategy or implementation. What’s new is that it has launched as people in the news business are re-thinking assumed continuity [the assumption that readers will be willing to pay for digital content]. It’s new because the people paying attention to it are now willing to regard the results as evidence of something. To the newspaper world, TimesSelect looked like an experiment. The Times and Sunday Times look like a referendum on the future.

Paywalls, Shirky says, have not done what they were supposed to do. Rather than expanding revenue from the audience as a whole, they shrink the audience to that fraction willing to pay. The on-line version of the Times has stopped being a “newspaper” and instead become a newsletter—a publication read by a select, more closely-knit audience than accessible-to-anyone newspapers.

Shirky believes the Times experiment shows that paywalls are not going to be the answer to letting newspapers continue on like they were before. They’re just another way of becoming something different. Either way, there may simply be no non-disruptive solution to moving into the digital future.

(Found via BoingBoing.)

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TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.


  1. Well first off I have absolutely no confidence in the numbers from News international. They have a long history of being economic with the truth on their own business matters. I suspect far lower numbers across the board.

    Shirky “The internet commodifies the business of newspapers. ”
    I don’t understand what language this is supposed to be in. In my language, English, this makes no sense whatsoever considering millions of people have been buying (paying money for) newspapers over the counter for over a hundred years. Not a good omen for the rest of the article.

    Shirky “So what’s different about News paywall? Nothing.”
    Making me wonder what the whole point of the article is then.

    Nevertheless the wider issue of paying for news and the issue of pay walls is important. I believe that the whole News Corporation exercise was wholly predictable and I commented on many a web site at the time to that effect.

    I don’t believe the issue is directly because people won’t pay for News. I think there are several issues that feed into this topic.

    Firstly people are not willing to pay for news they are not interested in. My wife (soon to be ex) has no interest in the Sports section. I have no interest in the Style or Women’s or Fashion or Media sections. When I buy a Paper Newspaper I am aware that I have to pay for it all because it all comes in one package. I accept that contract. But on the internet I don’t, and I don’t believe people in general do either.

    People want to read only specific stories from a structured summary of News Stories.

    Secondly in a world where there is masses of free news a News Provider must do one of two things. Either they get together with a significant number of other major News Providers to put them all behind a pay wall .. or .. they distinguish themselves from the others using criteria such as Reputation, Quality, Political Slant or otherwise, Depth of coverage, Exclusivity, Presentation. New Corporation hasn’t attempted any of these on the whole.

    Thirdly, and what I believe is the most critical, are ‘ease of payment’ and ‘value’.
    If I am browsing the web for news and I come to a web site such as the ‘Times’, there is one thing I do NOT want to do, and that is have to locate my credit card, enter all the details and go through the whole process simply to read one or three News stories. I don’t WANT to subscribe because I have no idea if I ever want to read any stories on the ‘Times’ again next month. The whole process is too sloppy, cumbersome and controlling.

    The solution imho is one that I have also opined about often in the last five years and the more time that passes the more correct I believe I am 🙂

    What is needed is an International Cross Platform Micro Payment System based either on Topped up balances or Monthly bills.

    Articles should be priced individually at anything from approx 5 to 10 cents. Users sign up to the system and attach it to their credit card. Whenever a Member Reader signs in to a participating News Provider web site his account is then modified by the appropriate charge for each article he reads. Then either the balance is accumulated for the Month and charged to the credit card, or the topped up credit card is reduced with each article read.

    I don’t see why this is kind of system cannot be implemented by a cooperative conglomerate made up of the major world News Providers and implemented quite quickly. It allows easy impulse access to News. It allows the reader to read as little or as much as they want to. It allows readers to only read what they want to read. The cost is not a sufficient burden to cause hesitation. Skype operated a very relevant and related system already.

    One day someone is going to do it and clean up 🙂

  2. Chris, good post and thanks for links. One thing, Shirky’s piece is NOT an editorial. That is his blog, it is a blog post. An editorial is a newspaper’s corporate unsigned opinion about something or other. A lot of people go around calling articles and letters and blog posts as editorials, they are not editorials. when you call that an editorial, it makes you look journalistscally illiterate,. Look it up, Chris, It’s important to know your terms.

  3. Chris, you are right, technically, but please don’t depend on internet sources for this stuff. you are wrong, ask any seasoned newspaper reporter or newsroom editor, and they will explain to you the differences between

    1, a letter to the editor
    2. a news article
    3. an oped guest commentary
    4. an editorial from a member of the paper’s editorial board, most often unsigned
    5. a blog post
    6. a blog comment

    they are all different animals, Chris. I know you don’t believe me and you are being defensive but ask Paul. He is a seasoned newsman. an “editorial” is an unsigned piece of opinion written by a member of the editorial board at a newspaper, from one to 12 people sit on these boards, such as at the NYT or WashPost, and what Shirky wrote was NOT an editorial, no matter what your Wiki source tells you. This is a kind of newsroom illiteracy that Atlantic online has discssued, see Jared Miller’s posts. A “post” on Clay’s blog is NOT an editorial, Chris. Really. the 2nd def you list above is correct, yes, but in common usage, we do not call blog posts as editorials. You need to go back to school. Did you ever go to journalism school or work at a newspaper? I assume not. I am not criticizing you, Chris, i am just saying you need to learn the terms better. It makes you look silly to call’s Shirky’s “post” on his blog an “editorial.”

    I have seen people call letters to the editors as “editiorials” too and according to your 2nd def above, they are. But they are not editorials. Best way to settle this, Chris, and i love all your posts here, really, you are good, is go ask a newspaper editor what the difference is between an editorial, a letter to the editor, a news article, an oped piece and a blog post. Then tell me if this makes any sense.

    • “Internet sources”? Dan, is the official site of Merriam-Webster (an Encyclopedia Britannica company), whose name is for dictionaries what “Kleenex” is for facial tissue. If I looked it up in the print version of any Merriam Webster dictionary (as, for example, here), I would find exactly the same definition.

      An interesting thing to me is that it would take only one little change to the first definition to make that one apply to Shirky’s post as well. If you changed “newspaper or magazine” to “publication”, there can be no doubt it would apply in that sense. After all, Shirky publishes his own blog, and that post certainly gives his opinions.

      For me, it’s an interesting signifier of how the media world has changed over the last twenty years. Thanks to blogs, anyone can post his own “editorials” (in the second sense, if not strictly the first) and—thanks to links from high-traffic sites, link forwarding via social networks, and so on—have the chance to be seen by far more people than would have seen it if it were published as an editorial in an old style paper back in those days. (Now, of course, even print paper editorials are being published on-line, and many papers are adding blog sections where their reporters can post their own “editorials” as they see fit.) Some law courts are even finding that bloggers do count as “journalists,” entitled to the same press privileges and shield law protections as correspondents from newspapers.

      Shirky’s post is an “editorial” in the second definition—one of the senses in which the term is commonly used, according to the pre-eminent glossarists of the English language. It is an expression of opinion that resembles the newspaper sense of “editorial”. And that’s the sense in which I used the word. I can understand why you wouldn’t like it, but Merriam-Webster says it is correct usage.

  4. P.S. Dan, please don’t think I do not appreciate your kind words regarding my writing. I do; they mean a lot to me, especially considering the source. But for the reasons noted above, I think my usage, while perhaps not proper in the sense that a seasoned newspaperman such as yourself or David Rothman would use it, is still correct in the sense in which I meant it.

  5. Chris, you are a good writer, like i said, and I really mean it, i love reading your posts here, i learn alot from you here at teleread. But you need to learn to be less defensive and admit you are wrong sometimes. This time, sir, you are wrong. Why not just admit it and chalk it up to experience, we all learn new things every day, i make lots of mistakes, and i don’t mind being corrected. that is how we learn.

    If you had written “Clay Shirky has written an interesting blog post looking at the paywalls of Rupert Murdoch’s Times and Sunday Times in relation to paywalls in general. …” ….it would all be clear. He did not write an editorial. Ask Clay if that was editorial. Sure, you can cite Merrian and any dictionary you want, and technically, anything that is an opinion and therefore an editorial but look, Chris, I am not scolding you, i am merely pointing out the reality of a newsroom, whether it be paper or digital. You do not want to listen. Someday, when you are older, you will learn to listen. Next you are going to tell me that so and so’s letter to the ediitor in the Times the other day was an editorial? According to your Merrian def it is. But it’s not, Chris. The way to show you are a good journo and writer is to admit mistakes. I am not telling you this because I am arrogant old fart, but because I want to help you learn the ropes of newsroom terminology. I have no idea what Rothman would say, his name has nothing to do with this. You seem like a bitter young man. You are too young to be bitter. that’s for old people,, like me, and even me, i am not bitter. I still learn new things every day and I am all ears. You should try it. But i see by now whatever i say is falling of deaf ears. I will leave you in peace. Have it your way. Someday you will understand. This is not the time, I guess.

    PS: maybe this IS a generational thing. maybe you young grasshoppers are creating your own newsroom terms, and persisting even though you are wrong. I notice alot of your generation is news illiterate. By that, i mean, they don’t know how to READ a newspaper or a digtal news site, in terms of what a writer does, what an editor does, what a headline writer does, what is an editorial and what is a blog post. Had you gone to journ school, would you know. As it is, you are a superb writer and thinker and trend spotter, but you need to know the vocabulary of journalistic discourse. I don’t understand why you are not listening to me. my intentions are good. i am trying to help you beocme an even better writer. But you resist. Why?

  6. Chris, re: “….. I think my usage, while perhaps not proper in the sense that a seasoned newspaperman such as yourself ……would use it, is still correct in the sense in which I meant it.”

    Chris, of course the way you used EDITORIAL “is correct in the sense in which you meant it.” But that is nonsense, Chris. You meant it the way you meant it sure, but you used the wrong word, not matter HOW you MEANT it, it is WRONG WORD to use there.

    Ask a news editor. don’t ask me. I know nothing.

  7. even Cory calls it an ESSAY, he does not call it an editorial. and you got the story from BB and Cory’s post there. stop being so stubborn. then again, be stubborn!

    Shirky: Times paywall is pretty much like all the other paywalls

    Cory Doctorow at 10:04 PM Monday, Nov 8, 2010

    Clay Shirky’s latest essay, “The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics,” examines all the ways in which Rupert Murdoch’s Times paywall is pretty much like all the other paywalls, and failed like pretty much all the other paywalls.

  8. To be honest I would have thought by now that we would have had some thoughtful comments on the article itself and my comment’s argument about micro payments 🙁 Personally I think it is a very important topic.

  9. Howard, well said, re: ”Language has no purpose or value except when both sides have a common understanding of it.” That is the point i have been trying to make but i didn’t know how to say it. you said it very well. short and sweet. Thanks.

    as for thoughtful comments on the blog post itself, YES, i want to read more about reactions to it too,. I felt your comment above, first, was very good and I even blogged it. And I sent it to Clay too, via email courrier….. in fact, it was YOUR COMMENT first above, top, that got me thinking about all this. so thanks.

  10. Chris, maybe i was wrong. Maybe it’s okay to use editorial in the way you used it. I apologize if i was wrong. see here: from USA today

    NEW ORLEANS — Saints quarterback Drew Brees has written an editorial for “USA Today” detailing his grandfather’s service in World War II in honor of Veteran’s Day.

    The column describes a recent visit Brees made to Okinawa, Japan, where he toured the beach where his grandfather, Ray Akins, stormed with the 1st Marine Division in April 1945.

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