It has been a very interesting week for the newspaper industry – with former KGB spy and Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev purchasing the Independent and the Independent on Sunday being bought for £1. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s Times and Sunday Times newspapers have announced that they will be charging £1 a day or £2 a week to access from June.
With rumours circulating that Lebedev will do the same as he did with his other newspaper, the Evening Standard, and offer free copies of the Independent, we have two opposing views on the best way to halt the crisis PR level decline in newspaper revenue – whichever proves the more successful could go a long way to shaping the future direction of the media in this country.
The idea is for Murdoch’s other titles – The Sun and the News of the World to move the same way. The Times Online currently has about 6 million unique users a week, and it will be interesting to see what criteria News International has to judge success – will it be half that number willing to pay for content? A tenth? Who knows.
The FT already charge for some of their content, but the FT is indispensible reading for City workers. The big question is whether The Times’ patrons will see their newspaper in the same way.
Lebedev will have a radically different approach if he follows the precedent set by The Standard and makes The Independent a free newspaper. The Independent is currently the lowest circulation national newspaper, and Lebedev would have to believe that there is more money to be made in advertising revenue if he ups the circulation and gives it away free.
Other newspapers and publicity agents must be looking on with real interest at the differing strategies of the two media moguls. Whichever comes out on top could have a huge impact on the industry. As PR consultants and public relations agencies, we will of course subscribe to The Times Online. Whether the general public will follow suite – especially with similar titles’ online content being given away for free remains to be seen.