Guardian MD: Murdoch's paywalls are to protect print

Rupert Murdoch’s planned introduction of online paywalls across his print titles is a strategy designed to protect print sales, the managing director of Guardian News and Media said today.

Highlighting how GNM lost significantly less than the £87.7m The Times and Sunday Times lost last year, Tim Brooks said he doubted paywalls were about the digital future of Murdoch’s papers and more about shoring up dwindling newspaper revenue. GNM made an operating loss of £36.8m in the year to April 2009.

GNM has been a keen advocate of keeping its online news content free whereas News International, Murdoch’s UK newspaper business, announced last month that from June readers would be charged £1 for a day’s access to the websites of The Times and Sunday Times or £2 for a week’s subscription.

Payment will allow access to both websites while a weekly subscription will also give readers access to an e-paper version and other new, as yet unnamed, digital applications.

Access to all digital services will be included in the price for those who already subscribe to the print versions of The Times and The Sunday Times.

Brooks said: ‘We believe in charging consumers in places where they are happy to pay. Those places are WH Smiths and the iTunes store. They are very unhappy to pay on the internet.

‘I wish Rupert Murdoch the best of luck with his trial because if he can make that work he will show people a new way.

‘My own view is that it is actually a strategy to defend his print subscriptions. It’s not about the future of digital it is about the future of newspapers.

‘I think the very small number of Times subscribers talking to each other on their closed forum will become a lonely place.

Brooks told delegates at the PPA Conference, in London, that he was happy to be proved wrong by Murdoch.

During a Q&A session a delegate asked Brooks that if GNM would follow suit and charge for online access if Murdoch’s paywall strategy proved successful.

‘We are happy to charge customers where they are happy to pay,’he replied.

‘I don’t see the worldwide web as such an environment. But I may be wrong.”

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