Back in August we heard the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper was to try out paid-membership clubs to try to drive up revenue, but now Rupert Murdoch has jumped on the idea. Yesterday saw the launch of Times+--a special features section to the site.
Murdoch-owned News International's (NI) effort will cost users £50 per year ($79.50), but it's free if you're an existing subscriber to the Times and Sunday Times papers. For that price you get access to special events, offers that the paper has negotiated with other vendors and other branches of NI--like the initial free Sky+HD box offer to new cable Sky TV subscribers. Plus there are extras like free film screenings, unique events ("many hosted by your favorite journalists"), expert talks, and so on--access to the paper's writers being one very unique opportunity.
According to the managing director of NI's Customer Direct division, Katie Vanneck-Smith, the intention is to create "the opportunity to redefine further our relationship with our readers and to reward their loyalty." And while that is indeed true, since Times+ delivers a slew of attractive benefits, the real reasoning is far far more basic: News International is desperate for subscriber cash.
The surprising part of it is that Murdoch's plan for clawing money back to his newspaper business doesn't involve charging for the existing content--instead the scheme is a bolt-on. It basically copies the model the Guardian set out, and which we labeled as a "far more groovy" way of injecting some digital life into the ailing news media biz.
For the time being, anyway. The newspaper industry is suffering from all angles, with declining readership, increased competition from the Web and e-readers, and even serious financial problems in the paper and pulp industry. How long will it be before Times+, with its glossy special offers, becomes merely a paid road-block gateway to all of the Times and Sunday Times online content?
[via The Independent]