Thursday, 26 August 2010

Yoda doubles the bet

Whilst I have enjoyed the summer (well I enjoyed the early summer, the last few weeks have been awful with the weather) it will be something of a relief to return to normality in terms of business announcements and general news as we move into Autumn. There’s certainly been the usual July/August lull but I confidently predict that, with the Chancellor’s Spending Review due in October and the US Mid-Term Elections due in November, there will be plenty to rant about in the coming months.

However, one story has caught my eye in recent days, namely the rumours that all of News International’s titles are to vanish behind paywalls and that includes The Sun and The News of the World. Roy Greenslade in the Guardian is intensely sceptical of this move and it certainly appears that Rupert Murdoch, or Yoda as he was once described to me by a News International employee who had to go and pitch an idea to him in New York, is upping the ante and going for broke with his paywall strategy before the rest of us have any idea whether it is working or not.

Supreme confidence based on a view of their internal subscription numbers or classic bullying tactics? Time will tell, but what is clear is that the rest of us need sight of two key metrics before we can judge whether this is working or not.

Firstly, revenue from online subscriptions. This is obviously a key number but it is important we strip out those, like a client of mine, who has a year’s free subscription to the new Times site. At the moment, News International is keeping this information very close to its chest.

Secondly, newspaper circulation figures. One theory is that News International is hoping that the paywall drives people back to the print version. If circulation numbers increase, and it’s a big ask considering The Times’ circulation dropped by circa 90,000 readers from June ’09 to June this year, then there might be some method to what they are doing.

We might get some daylight on this when News Corporation issues its fourth quarter results in early November, but don’t hold your breath. NewsCorp is an enormous beast including Fox News, 20th Century Fox, BSkyB, MySpace, book publishers like Harper Collins and international newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. UK newspaper revenue usually only accounts for about five lines in their quarterly statements.


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