a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Times online no longer a newspaper, says Clay Shirky

Posted on the November 13th, 2010

Earlier this week an authoritative, much listened to voice on the impact of the Internet on our social and economic structures, Clay Shirky, definitively dissected the recent user statistics of the UK Times and its experiment with locking its news content away behind a paywall.

In a post on his blog, Shirky, writer and New York University professor, offers no optimism about paywalls as saviors of newspapers (“The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics” Nov 8, 2010).


The advantage of paywalls is that they raise revenue from users. The disadvantages are that they reduce readership, increase customer acquisition and retention costs, and eliminate ad revenue from user-forwarded content. In most cases, the disadvantages have outweighed the advantages.

So what’s different about News paywall? Nothing. It’s no different from other pay-for-access plans, whether the NY Times’ TimesSelect* or the Harligen Texas Valley Morning Star.* News Corp has produced no innovation in content, delivery, or payment, and the idea of 90%+ loss of audience was already a rule of thumb over a decade ago. Yet something clearly feels different…

Read full post here.

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Latest look at fortunes of Times’ paywall

Posted on the November 2nd, 2010

Continuing to keep an eye on reports about the ups or downs of Rupert Murdoch’s beloved paywall at his UK Times newspapers, I found this brief article from a couple of days ago by Peter Preston — “Murdoch’s paywall: those who leap are an engaging lot” (Guardian online, Oct 31, 2010).

Posting some stats from the latest Nielsen release on the paywall, Preston notes that the Times online traffic numbers certainly have fallen, and that only about 20 percent of visitors have opted to pay to read.


You can weave webs of relative triumph or disaster from all this. The good news for News International is that those who vaulted the wall were a bit older, richer and more dedicated to scanning the site carefully. They are the “engaged readers” advertisers admire – as opposed to the click-by-night trade who never stop to buy anything. The bad news is…

Read the rest here.

UPDATE: A much bleaker conclusion is drawn about the Times‘ paywall by Mathew Ingram writing today at GigaOM (“It’s Official: News Corp.’s Paywalls Are a Bust”).


… after four months of selling its new paywall system, News Corp. has only managed to convince a little over one-and-a-half percent of its readers to pay something for the newspapers’ content — and has only been able to convert half of that already tiny figure into actual monthly subscribers. Meanwhile, the site’s overall traffic has collapsed by almost 90 percent.

Ouch! Read full piece here.

UPDATE 2: A round-up of editors’ perspective on the Times‘ paywall — is it or isn’t it? — comes from Emma Heald at editorsweblog.org (“Times and Sunday Times have about 52,000 monthly digital subscribers” Nov 2, 2010).  Reviewing the basic stats just released, Heald takes a wait-and-see attitude on the fortunes of the Times’ experiment. She includes rosier remarks of a Times spokesperson, and also cites some comments from other media folk:

Media commentators were united in frustration at the lack of a more thorough breakdown of the numbers, but not about what they mean. Roy Greenslade believes that the paywall experiment “has, as expected, not created a sufficiently lucrative business model.” Malcolm Coles, on the other hand, sees the numbers as “actually quite good.” PaidContent’s Robert Andrews, stressing that it’s still early days, said that “the small subscriptions base at least offers hope of recurring customer income.” The 52,500 monthly subscribers figure could “signal a news business that has a future,” said Dominic Ponsford.

Read more here.

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Certamente, nei giornali italiani l’inglese c’è

Posted on the September 26th, 2010

Se qualcuno preferisce leggere la stampa italiana ma non parla bene la lingua, può approfittare della sezione inglese di qualche giornale italiano.

Per esempio, uno dei più grandi quotidiani italiani è il Corriere della sera. Nel suo sito, nel menù in alto, c’è la categoria “English”. In questa sezione ci sono le traduzioni di una limitata selezione degli articoli del giornale.

Uno dei più recenti è intitolato: “100,000 Sign Manifesto to Ban Shooting as Season Opens” di Margherita De Bac, tradotto da Giles Watson.

Un brano:

ROME – More than 100,000 people have signed up against shooting. On the Sunday that saw the opening of the new season, which will close on 31 January, the signatories of the Manifesto per la coscienza degli animali [manifesto for the awareness of animals] borrowed a phrase from Tolstoy to protest at “an idiotic, cruel practice that offends moral sentiment”.

C’è sempre un link all’articolo originale. Questo stesso brano, in italiano, è:

ROMA – Oltre centomila firme contro la caccia. Nella domenica di apertura delle attività venatorie – che si chiude il 31 gennaio – esprimono la condanna di «un atto stupido, crudele e nocivo al sentimento morale» (parole mutuate da Tolstoj) sottoscrivendo il «Manifesto per la coscienza degli animali».

Questo post è scritto in occasione di “Day of Multilingual Blogging“(Note: Un ringraziamento a mio marito Franco per il suo aiuto gentile con il mio italiano per questo post.)

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Times’ paywall experiment down, but is it out?

Posted on the July 25th, 2010

Although the paying-members-only policy recently enacted by The Times in the UK reportedly has caused online readership to plummet 90 percent (see here), it’s still too early to declare the experiment a dead duck, according to a blog post by Peter Robins, media and technology editor at rival UK newspaper the Guardian (“The paywall won’t be built in a day” July 22, 2010).

Robins writes that it would be “very unwise” to conclude that Times‘ publisher Rupert Murdoch’s paywall has failed. As argument, he raises the analogy of another Murdoch publication behind a paywall, the quite successful Wall Street Journal.


The Wall Street Journal acquired its million online subscribers by following a consistent strategy for a decade…

Robins cautiously predicts that a definitive answer about the success or failure of the Times‘ paywall (if continued) won’t emerge for six months or more.

Robins does omit mentioning that the WSJ is primarily a financial newspaper and — like the Financial Times that also operates successfully behind a paywall — has a select subscriber base that reportedly is quite willing to pay for the speciality of business and finance news (see here).

Earlier post on Times’ paywall here.

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Online traffic growing for newspapers

Posted on the August 1st, 2008

Finally, some promising numbers for U.S. newspapers, according to Nielsen Online, as reported this week in Editor & Publisher. The online audience rose more than 12 percent in the most recent quarter, compared to the same period last year, E&P reports (“Newspaper Sites Gain Audience in Q2” by Jennifer Saba, July 29, 2008).

More here.

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Who’s killing off newspapers?

Posted on the July 18th, 2008

In a concise piece in The Nation online this week, journalism professor Eric Alterman, lists the series of mistakes some “clueless media moguls” are making that, rather than slowing the rapid slide of newspapers into extinction, are ensuring that the demise will happen (“I Read the News Today… Oh Boy” July 16, 2008).

Alterman names some of the bigger villains by name and itemizes errors.

Overall the picture Alterman paints isn’t pretty. Especially depressing is his conclusion that any good ideas to rescue newspapers so far haven’t appeared.

Sure makes me want to believe in that old saw, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

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Umberto Eco and the late newspaper

Posted on the June 13th, 2008

It’s not difficult to find a lot of discussion online and elsewhere these days about the current rapid decline of newspapers in the U.S. and elsewhere. It’s also not too difficult to find a lot of blame being tossed around at times in those discussions about who or what is at fault.

Writing recently in his regular column for L’espresso, however, Umberto Eco says it’s not anyone’s fault, no more than the hole in the ozone is. The decline of newspapers is a result of our technological development, according to Eco, and it’s just a fact. But, he adds, it’s an embarrassing one (“Parlare in ritardo” La Bustina di Minerva, April 17, 2008). Note – in Italian only.

Describing what the newspaper has become these days, Eco writes:

Così il giornale diventa come una serata in famiglia, dove il nonno ripete per la milionesima volta la storia di quando aveva subito i bombardamenti, il babbo snocciola i suoi luoghi comuni sulla situazione economica, poi si parla un po’ male del vicino notoriamente cornuto, o si commenta la trasmissione televisiva appena vista. Niente di male, anzi bellissima situazione di socializzazione, ma non era questa, all’inizio degli inizi, la funzione delle gazzette, finestre che di colpo e inopinatamente si spalancavano ogni mattina sull’imprevisto.

(Translation, roughly: Just so the newspaper becomes like spending an evening with the family, where the grandfather repeats for the umpteenth time the story of when he was caught under a bombing attack, the father rattles off his usual opinions on the economic situation, then there is some mildly unkind talk about a neighbor who is notoriously being cheated on, or comments about a television program that was just watched. Nothing bad, on the contrary, a wonderful social situation but this wasn’t, at the very beginning, the function of the newspapers (which were) windows suddenly and unexpectedly thrown open each morning on the unforeseen.)

If this excerpt whets your appetite to read more Eco, I also found this reprint of an interview (in English) he gave to a reporter in New York last December (Interview with Umberto Eco, “The Armani of Italian literature,” Umberto Eco talks to Ben Naparstek, Dec 8, 2007, The Sydney Morning Herald).

UPDATE: Questo post in italiano (parziale)

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If you love newspapers, read this and…

Posted on the April 28th, 2008

Weep, probably, judging by some conclusions in a series of articles beginning today in Advertising Age. Taking a look at the ongoing decline of newspapers, the report focuses on what’s being done to forestall collapse (“The Newspaper Death Watch” by Nat Ives, April 28, 2008).

One expert quoted in the article predicts that newspapers will survive only about 20 to 25 more years:

Of course, newspaper owners aren’t going to just give up and wait — and that’s why Ad Age is launching this series about the 1,437 dailies still working hard in the U.S. It’ll look at the thought leaders in the industry, their attempts to leave the past — and even formats — behind and their strategies for finding new business models.

(Link to this story came from mediabistro.com).

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Net will climb to third place by 2010, they say

Posted on the December 4th, 2007

The Internet will edge past magazines, now ranked third behind newspapers and television, as a favorite for advertisers by 2010, according to an article in the Guardian online yesterday (“Net to become third biggest ad medium,” by Mark Sweney, Guardian Unlimited, Dec 3, 2007) .

The report on global advertising was just released by the media agency ZenithOptimedia, according to the Guardian article, and it projects that by 2010, the Internet will lay claim to 11.5 percent ($61 billion) of the total global spending on advertising ($530 billion). For the same time period, the top two favorites for advertisers, newspapers and television, will have a 25.4 percent share and a 37.5 percent share respectively.

The Internet currently ranks behind radio on the list of advertising mediums, but is projected to surpass it next year, according to the newspaper article.

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