Michael Wolff: Behind the Times and Sunday Times paywall 'it's an empty world'

Rupert Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff has used his latest Newser column to take a swipe at the chances of success for The Times and Sunday Times paywall.

“My sources say that not only is nobody subscribing to the website, but subscribers to the paper itself–who have free access to the site–are not going beyond the registration page. It’s an empty world.”

He also says:

“…it may be better to see the paywall as not about making more but about costing less. The paywall, and the integration of the Times and the Sunday Times behind it, becomes the deus ex machina by which (and this has long been a Murdoch dream) Murdoch and his son, James, the paper’s boss (with his eager corporate lieutenants, Rebekah Wade Brooks and Will Lewis), happily tear up several centuries of history and join the Times and the Sunday Times–and save a fortune.”

As I noted last week there are quite a few things which could be improved on The Times site. And for them to succeed they really do need to be the best newspaper websites in the world.

Looking closely at them, I’m increasingly thinking that the paywall gambit is not so much about extracting pound coins from Times readers but is part of a bigger ploy by Murdoch to challenge the increasing media hegemony of Google.

Most news websites are designed specifically with the web design standards that Google adheres to in mind. So they are really designed not for the reader, but for the Google bots which will crawl over them and catalog their content.

The Times and Sunday Times deliberately bar Google from entering them and are designed with the reader – not the search engine – in mind.

As much as anything the paywall gambit should be viewed as Murdoch’s bid to head Google off at the pass before it assumes utter control of the digital media world.

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