How News Limited is reaching out to the bloggers in the paywall debate

The great thing about doing Mumbrella is that when I want to be a journalist, I’m a journalist. And when I want to be a blogger, I’m a blogger.

Last night I was at News Limited’s blogger  briefing on its plans for The Australian’s paywall.  

Of course, much of the information was put in the public domain by The Australian’s CEO Richard Freudenstein at Mumbrella360 back in June.

But to recap, it’s a “freemium” model – enough free content to hang on to advertising revenue; with the more exclusive, analytical and opinion stuff likely to be behind the wall. There’ll be flexibility on how much locked content there will be based, in part, on how subs are going at the time and how much advertising is booked.

The price point opens at $2.95 a week for a digital-only pass to the site and apps. There are a combination of packages up to $7.95 for a six day print sub along with the digital options.

However, the first five items of content accessed via Google will be free each day, while (probably) just the first item via Facebook will be.

Almost the only detail not yet in the public domain is the launch date, although it did emerge that it will begin later this month, which narrows it down somewhat. More on that in the next few days, including a video interview with The Australian’s editor Clive Mathieson once the date is revealed.

But although some mainstream media briefings had already taken place, the approach of talking to bloggers – many of them critics of old school media – ahead of the launch is still something of a new one. I can’t think of another big media owner which has done similar.

Last night saw Freudenstein and Mathieson joined by  marketing director Ed Smith and online editor Nic Hopkins. Also on the News Ltd team was their flack Stephen Browning and Edelman PR director of brand and digital marketing Matthew Gain.

It felt a long way from what has sometimes felt like the Murdochian stance of railing at new media for diverting the rivers of classified advertising gold. It was kinda, well, cosy.

So what do the bloggers make of it?

Among the first out the the blocks is Ross Dawson, who tells his readers is a lengthy piece:

“Overall, it was very refreshing to hear the News Limited executives be open about the challenges they have faced in shifting online from the well-established medium of newsprint. I have previously called the shift to paywalls ‘The Grand Experiment’, and that is exactly how News is approaching their paywall.”

Gavin Heaton, meanwhile, offers a summary on the tweets from the night, which were on the #newsdigsub hashtag.

At the time of writing, most of those present – including Laurel Papworth, Gary Hayes, Tiphereth Gloria, Katie Chatfield, Craig Wilson, Bronwen Clune and Karalee Evans – have yet to post to their blogs on the subject, although I’m sure they will.

I’m also sure that some will have their criticisms – there were sceptical questions on the night.

But on the whole, it felt like the group was mostly won over. I think (and of course, we shall see) that most present were at least persuaded that the plan, even if it doesn’t work, has been thought through and the risk minimised. Few will have left thinking “these guys don’t get it”, which is often the somewhat unproductive dialogue that occurs when new media critiques traditional media.

Certainly News appears to want to drive the conversation. Come the date announcement, they’ll be launching a site at to continue that.

They may be right, or they may be wrong. But they’re not running from the debate.

Tim Burrowes



  1. Logic
    18 Oct 11
    12:34 pm

  2. very smart strategy if it can work – taps into the blogger ego need to ‘have a perceived seat at the table’ which then may ensure buy in or at least lack of negative sentiment.

    for the record i wouldn’t say mumbrella is any more a blog than the australian is. both break news, have influence and aren’t just op-ed. big difference between a mumbrella and the blogs mentioned above (which are ‘i think this therefore’ type outlets)

  3. Matthew Gain
    18 Oct 11
    12:52 pm

  4. Glad you enjoyed the session Tim and found it useful.

  5. Marshy
    18 Oct 11
    1:15 pm

  6. Really enjoyed following the tweets last night, sounds very interesting and it looks like News are going about this in a way that commands (some) respect.

  7. Davo
    18 Oct 11
    5:33 pm

  8. The fact that The Oz isn’t getting a kicking in this thread right now suggests that it’s working

  9. John Grono
    18 Oct 11
    7:25 pm

  10. Tim, I just want to double-check the point you make that “the first five items of content accessed via Google will be free each day”. So, does that mean that you get no items, or unlimited items, or somewhere inbetween if you use other search engines such as Bing or Ask. Or, have news done a deal with just Google?

  11. Craig
    19 Oct 11
    12:39 am

  12. Selling the strategy is one thing.

    Whether subscribers will pay is another.

  13. mumbrella
    19 Oct 11
    11:21 am

  14. Hi John,

    Good point. I should also have clarified that it’s five piece of premium content – so unlimited access remains to the stuff that’s not behind the pay wall.

    The question didn’t come up at the briefing regarding other search engines, but it did regarding Facebook, which is one item. They were very honest that with some of this they are experimenting as they go, so I think that will include numbers of free premium items per day.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  15. pk
    19 Oct 11
    2:01 pm

  16. Tim I know it’s easy to be wise after the fact but it looks like you were perhaps misled into thinking that News is more social-media friendly than is the actual case.

    Today The Australian gave some more details about the model:
    “News indicated it would allow users to access up to five premium-content stories a day via Google and have one free click-through from social media site Facebook when the national broadsheet erected the paywall later this month.”
    And it won’t give free clicks to Twitter.

    There is nothing “blogger friendly” about that setup. The only option you have as a blogger is to a) tell people to google the story b) find another source and ignore News Limited.

  17. Tiphereth
    20 Oct 11
    5:17 pm

  18. I’ve published my thoughts on the evening, including tackling of the questions we all raised during the session.

  19. Edward James
    1 Nov 11
    11:55 pm

  20. The Australian is free for three months to those of us who are willing to subscribe and try it out, its a shame they do not encourage comments at the end of their work product! I understand people who subscribe to have their news paper delivered receive internet access as part of that subscription. Consumers paying for things and services is after all how business stay in business. Edward James