Irish Times’ paywall is about to go live – will other newspapers follow suit?

17 Feb 2015

The paywall for the Irish Times newspaper online will go live next week, sparking a potential new trend other newspapers in Ireland may follow.

The Irish Times will from next week become the first daily newspaper in Ireland in over a decade to introduce a metered subscription for its content.

The newspaper said that on 23 February the metered subscription service will go live.

The Irish Times stated that the subscriptions are being introduced because it no longer believes it is possible to sustain online journalism through advertising income alone.

Under the new system readers will be able to browse and read up to 10 articles per week on any device. This is very similar to the digital subscription regime introduced recently by the New York Times.

In this way the newspaper will avoid losing casual readers of the site. However, regular readers who don’t buy the physical newspaper but access more than 10 articles per week will now be required to pay up.

This isn’t the first time that the Irish Times had a paywall. The company abandoned its first paywall in 2001.

It will be interesting to see if other newspapers in Ireland will follow suit. Currently the only other national newspapers that have paywalls are the weekend newspapers Sunday Business Post and the Irish edition of the Sunday Times.

Indications are that the rival Irish Independent is more than likely going to continue on its current path of growing its online audience and advertising rather than implementing a paywall. But things could change.

Newspapers in Ireland, and around the world, are struggling with the reality that people are discovering news in their social media feeds rather than the form of a physical newspaper.

Ask any 23 year-old today and they think newspapers either come free at train stations or are something that their grandparents still buy. News, they believe, comes free on their smartphones.

This is no comfort to the newspaper industry, already decimated by the substantial loss of property advertising in the wake of the economic recession.

The Digital Path

The Irish Times’ decision to put up a paywall is not without risk, but it is a decision that has been on the minds of newspaper executives for more than a decade.

In 2012 the Irish Times had pre-tax losses of €325,445, down from €1.1m the previous year.

Irish Times editor Kevin O’Sullivan said that the decision to put in place a metered subscription for digital content “will support future investment in journalism” across both print and digital.

The newspaper is also understood to be putting in place a 7-day digital newsroom, abandoning a longstanding policy of closing on Saturdays.

Under the new subscriptions regime a Standard Digital subscription will cost €12 a month for unlimited access to the newspaper online across three devices, including full access to the newspapers’ archives dating back to 1859.

A Premium Digital subscription for €16 a month includes access to the Irish Times Digital Edition, an ePaper version of the print edition.

A Complete Print and Digital Package will cost €50 a month, while a Weekend Print & Digital package will cost €20 a month.

However, in recognition of the reality that online news is discovered mostly through social these days the newspaper has decided that articles discovered via a link from social media networks such as Facebook or Twitter will be free and won’t count towards the quota of 10 articles per week.

Mobile users will also be able to swipe through articles on the Irish Times’ mobile app, but will only see a preview unless they have a subscription.

Paper tigers in a digital era

The move is not without its share of risk but the 10 article a week rule and social media sharing concessions could in some way deflect a significant falloff in online traffic.

But will other newspapers follow suit? The question of paywalls has bedevilled the newspaper for some time. All eyes will no doubt be on Indepedendent News & Media, the largest newspaper group in the country with a stable of national and provincial titles, which in turn will be watching these developments closely.

Independent News & Media last year reported that digital revenue was up 17.8pc. Online revenues accounted for just under €10m out of total revenues of over €322m.

It used to be a case of time will tell, but newspapers will now tell you they don’t have the luxury of time to wait and see. The times we live in.

Newspapers image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years