Putting the prize chicken into the paywall basket – is the Northern Echo’s move going to pave the way or fall foul?

Northern Echo 1
The paywall pop-up which is activated on the Northern Echo website after clicking on ten different stories in a month.

Sarcastic and doom-mongering comments abound over the news that Newsquest title The Northern Echo has launched a tiered paywall system – making it the only regional news title in England to charge consumers for its online product.

Splutters Mr Angry 2, among others, on Hold The Front Page: “If digital were going to work it would have by now. It simply doesn’t make any money. It may save print and distribution costs but advertisers hate it so what’s the point?”

While theMarkmag mused on the Guardian’s frothy coverage of the change: “Seems like one of those pointless browser dependent paywalls. I would imaging I’ll end up using the county wide news on BBC as a first view, then occasionally visit the Gannett site using multiple browsers on multiple platforms. Ultimately the hassle will just mean I’ll use it less, and never worry about hitting the limits anyway.”

None of this type of response will come as much of a shock to Newsquest or its US mother company Gannett. After all, it may be the only paywall in England, but it is the second introduced by the company in the UK, with the first being the Glasgow-based Herald website.

And it’s not the first attempt at introducing a paywall for an English regional title online either. Wolverhampton’s Press & Star enjoyed a brief dalliance with a paywall experiment in 2011 and in 2010 Johnston Press engineered a badly thought out paywall test which lasted only three months.

What’s different about this particular foray into the world of paid-for news is, firstly, it’s the company’s most successful northern title that’s been chosen to host the paywall and secondly, this move doesn’t give the impression of a temporary suck-it-and-see test.

In the last half of 2014 the Northern Echo ‘enjoyed’ an ABC rating of -9.6% – fairly dismal one might conclude – until that is you see the results of the other Newsquest titles in the north, with the Bradford Telegraph & Argus rating at -12.8% and The Press in York bagging a drop of -11.7. Then compare the -9.6% with the other daily titles in the north of England – with the mean ABC rating coming in at -11.4% – it turns out the Echo isn’t doing as badly as its competition in terms of flagging newspaper sales. The Echo also purports its website to be growing by more than 28% every year, with a ‘mature’ online audience of 313,919 unique users a month – meaning adults aged over 40 who in theory have more money to spend and more loyalty to the brand.

Rather than making an apologetic attempt at keeping up with the times by introducing a paywall on a badly-run website, as Johnston Press did in 2010, Newsquest has picked one of its flagship titles to run a crusade of getting people to pay for a successful product rather than expecting it free of charge. The pop-up that appears on the site when you go over your ten clicks is not stumbling over itself to cajole readers into coughing up – it is simply pointing out that readers should pay for decent journalism. Its message, complete with a no-nonsense picture of Echo editor Peter Barron, is firm but fair. It makes no suggestion of a trial period, it makes no excuses, it suggests to the reader that the paywall is here to stay, so pay up or get lost.

Northern Echo 2
The paywall stops readers from seeing more than the first few paragraphs of a story

This is all very well in an ideal world, but as pointed out by many of the Hold the Front Page commentators, people won’t pay for something that they can get free elsewhere. And this is where the challenge lies. The mantra of paying for a service you are accessing is one that most logical adults wouldn’t argue with, but only if you are getting value for money, otherwise why pay at all?

What the Northern Echo needs to do is provide is something unique, something nobody else offers and something that’s enough of a draw to want to return again and again. It needs to put its money where its mouth is, by investing in the website and ensuring that the content is as captivating, newsy, entertaining and up-to-the-minute as possible. But with round after round of redundancy across regional newspaper companies it is hard to see how the staff that are left will be available to dedicate the time and investment needed into creating a truly fantastic website. Newsquest needs to do a Trinity Mirror and pledge itself and its money into becoming a 24-7 go-to site filled with content from paid-for bloggers, online and digital journalists and, dare I say it, curating decent input and engagement from engaged and informed readers.

Currently the Northern Echo site looks a little flat for its cost. Its home page offers a range of stories to choose from, including the predictable weather summary, police and crime stories and charity coverage. There is little obvious in the way of interactive media, video or analysis or investigative journalism. Perhaps it is the sports pages in this instance that will draw and retain an audience. And hopefully a percentage of those who used the site regularly last month will now cough up for the privilege of continuing to have access.

Northern Echo 3
A snapshot of the Northern Echo’s homepage

The industry is choc-full of naysayers predicting doom and disaster. While people like Mr Angry 2 are wrong about digital not being the present and future of regional news, Newsquest has taken a bold step in putting its prize chicken into the paywall basket.

It’s going to take pants of steel and a grip of iron to prove those cynics wrong. I, for one, wish them luck trying. If this works, it could pave the way for others to follow. And while people might not agree that it will work, it’s likely that we do all agree that good journalism should be reimbursed.

And if it fails it might be the hammering of the nail in the coffin for paywalls in the sector forever; which at least will do the industry a favour in helping divine the path of the murky and unpredictable beast that is the digital future of news.

No ifs, no butts, Kim Kardashian is never going to break the internet – she IS the internet

Kim Kardashian 'Break the Internet' meme

Above: A meme parodying the Break the Internet Kim Kardashian Paper magazine cover

Anyone who has been online, or who, let’s face it, has stepped out of the house in the past couple of days, will have seen THAT picture of Kim Kardashian and her gigantic, shiny bottom (except my office room mate it  turns  out – but let’s  gloss over that).

Just  in case you have been elsewhere over the past  couple of days though, the image I’m referring to is  on the front of Paper magazine. It’s a cheeky picture (so to speak) of Kim Kardashian looking knowingly over her shoulder at the camera, wearing nothing but a pearl choker, long  black gloves and a bottle and a half of Johnson’s Baby Lotion.  Her famous derriere is on full display and seems more enormous than can be humanly possible on a woman whose waist is probably only the circumference of my head.

Beneath the image are the  words: Break the Internet Kim Kardashian

It reads like a command. And we know it’s never going to happen as Kim is the internet. While some live or die by the sword, Kim lives or dies by the world wide web. And at the moment it is holding strong under the millions and millions of tweets, retweets and shares of this image and the thousands of memes which have been inspired by it.

If it wasn’t for Twitter, or the Daily Mail website, most of us wouldn’t have seen or heard of this image. Much less be talking about it. Most of us wouldn’t even know  who Kim Kardashian is. Or care. The only reason we are talking about it (including me) is because everybody else is. It’s a self perpetuating cycle and an excellent illustration of the power of the internet and digital technology and the way that it has changed the way news is delivered – with readers and their appetites driving the news, rather than the news being prescribed to its audience by journalists. The one-way channel of news delivery is no more. And if you don’t believe me, check out these reports on the Kardashian bottom by respected industry titles including the Telegraph, the Independent and the Guardian. I don’t think any of these titles would have covered Buttgate if it wasn’t for the audience appetite for the story.

In a world where news and information fights to be seen alongside other news and information – important things; news of conflict, hope, death, human crisis, frailty, happiness and love –  there is Kim Kardashian’s bottom and all that it stands for.

 

UPDATE: As an experiment to demonstrate the power of  the subject, I measured the number of views I got on this page over the 24 hours from publication, with the prediction that it would be my most viewed post to date. Here are the results:

On publishing this post I promoted it  in the way I have promoted all of my other blog posts – by uploading the link and a picture to my Rebecca Whittington Media Facebook page which I then shared on my personal Facebook account as well, tweeting about it twice on Twitter at the  time of publication using appropriate hashtags and sharing the blog link on Linkedin the following morning. I deliberately didn’t  promote more on social media than I have with any other posts so I could measure the impact of the story and keywords.

On Twitter the tweet reading ‘#KimKardashian #breaktheinternet a prime example of how digital has turned the tables on traditional news sourcing rebeccawhittingtonmedia.com/2014/11/13/no-…‘ was favourited, retweeted and replied to by one follower who himself had 1,810 followers. It was also retweeted only by another follower who had 587 followers. I have not looked to see if it was retweeted from either acccount – but if I  do later I will update here.

On Facebook the post on my Rebecca Whittington Media page reached 201 people and the post link had 36 clicks on it. Two Facebook users (one being me) shared the post from the page. There were two likes on the post link from the page and two likes on the shared posts.

I can’t see the stats for my Linkedin profile as I’m too tight to pay for premium, so I will have to factor that non-result into the mix.

On returning to the blog today just before 4pm I found ‘No ifs, no butts’ – my sixth blog post to date – had enjoyed a total of 141 views. Previously my most popular post was You know it’s significant when you change your Twitter handle which had 57 views in total, followed by Board will strengthen the voice of newspapers – now time to start work on diversity with just 16 views. These are views of the individual posts alone – my blog page as a whole has had 45 views – suggesting the majority of views on the Kardashian post and some views of the Twitter handle post had come from either direct links from Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin or specific search terms which in turn had seen the post listed in the search results.

On the day of publication there were 129 views on the blog alone and 152 on my website as a whole. The views on my site were from the following countries:

Country Views
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom 131
United States FlagUnited States 12
Germany FlagGermany 3
Australia FlagAustralia 3
Canada FlagCanada 1
South Africa FlagSouth Africa 1
France FlagFrance 1

Out of those views 53 came from Facebook and 15 from Twitter with a further 10 coming from a Facebook source. Only one view came from a search engine term (term could not be identified).

Today there were 12 views on the post and 17 views on the website overall. The views on my site were from the following countries:

United Kingdom 13
Netherlands FlagNetherlands 1
Korea, Republic of FlagRepublic of Korea 1
United States FlagUnited States 1
Singapore FlagSingapore 1

Out of those views 3 came from Facebook and 1 from Twitter. Only one view came from a search engine term (term could not be identified).

CONCLUSION

Overall it’s definitely fair to say this experiment lived up to the prediction that this would be my most popular blog post by a country mile. As predicted, the inclusion of hot search terminology and popular subject (Kim Kardashian, butt/bottom) meant strangers from far and wide were flocking to see what the links had to offer. What did baffle me was how few people seemed to arrive through search terms. In fact, it was not fully clear from the data offered by  Wordpress what the method was for 50 of  the visitors to the page on the first day – only 79 were  accounted  for.  This  is something I would possibly be able to find out if I paid a subscription to WordPress, but, as I don’t, unfortunately it  remains a mystery.

I was also quite surprised by how many of those visitors were from countries other than the UK. It’s obvious Kim Kardashian’s bottom knows no international boundaries.

Since the experiment I have enjoyed a raise in the number  of daily visitors to my site, particularly from the US. However, what is interesting is that it’s not this post catching people’s attention, but instead is The Will Cornick dilemma which seems to be gaining  the most individual visitors.

This has been an interesting experiment which has inspired a study I am now working on as part of my research project – I’ll update on this blog when I can reveal more.

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑