it was whilst catching up on recent media events that I ended up lying in the Sydney summer sun listening – courtesy of MediaGuardian's Podcast – to London Times Editor James Harding on how he and the newspaper intend to un-write the economics of free on the internet. in short, the title intends to start charging for the valuable content they create but have hereto been giving away for free online. some snippets, as reported in the Guardian:
"We created a culture of free, and we absolutely were party to that … In the last few years, we have talked with great pride – we believed advertising would sustain us – about unique users … These people were window shopping down Oxford Street – they were not coming into our shops …
"From spring of next year we will start charging for the digital edition of the Times. We're working on the exact pricing model, but we'd charge for a day's paper, for a 24-hour sign-up to the Times. We'll also establish a subscription price as well … You have to be very careful with article-only economics … you will find yourself writing a lot more about Britney Spears and a lot less about Tamils in northern Sri Lanka."
"We keep investing in journalism, we believe that's what our readers want. We're not dumbing down, we're dumbing up … We are going to rewrite the economics of the newspaper, newsgathering and delivery business … We have to do that, we are in the fight of our lives."
what's of particular interest is the call to move away from micro-charging – the economics that sustain Amazon, iTunes and the like, and instead focus on the smaller customer base but higher-per-customer return of a subscription model… of particular interest to Mediation is Harding's comments re home delivery services and the Times+ membership and reward scheme, about which he nodded towards loyalty…
"Historically, newspapers have treated their best customers worst and their worst customers best … We give the paper away to people who could not care less and we pay little or no attention to people who love it and read it every day."
I've written quite a lot about loyalty on these pages including a essay on the subject and won't reiterate now, but in short, I believe we've come to accept as fact the supposition that the primary role for marketing communications is growth through customer acquisition. and that in doing so we ignore both the existence of current customers and the pivotal role they play in the growth of brands…
I believe that focusing on customer retention is an acquisition strategy. I believe that it is those brands that choose to invest in marketing communications that talk with their existing customers, that are building the most robust marketing structures for the future.
there is much to criticise about hardings plans; people simply will not pay, that the charging structures won't allow let alone facilitate browsing, that the content arguably is overvalued … but there's the possibility that in the near future we'll talk about The Times as a case study in reinventing markets around customers not consumers. there's the possibility that The Times' efforts become a landmark in enabling us to divest ourselves of the ill-suited model of ad funding for online-distributed content and invest instead in brand-funded collateral: on things that make the world a better, more interesting, more exciting, more educational or more spontaneous place.
its strange to thing that Rupert Murdoch, of all people, could help take us to that place. but much stranger things have happened.