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Hmm, paywalls. It doesn’t sound good, does it?

It is very easy to be cynical and say that Rupe has had an epiphany and decided he likes money and would quite enjoy a bit more, but there’s more to it than that. Honest. Something has to be done, or the news business will fall apart. More newspapers will close, quality will freefall, and streets will be lined with shivering old hacks, reminiscing about the good old days of long lunches and bylines (see IMDB for details of The Day After Tomorrow 2: The Decline of the Newspapers.)

Anyway, for a long time, people could be as click-happy as they wanted, and everyone enjoyed it, flitting around, aggregating, searching, taking the news for granted. It was all going so well, and then a billion or so users had to go and ruin it for everyone else. They stopped buying papers. They didn’t get their copy of The Times in the morning and then go online in the afternoon to check up on the stories they had read. No. They left their house, they got on the tube (without a paper), picked up an abandoned copy of Metro, read it and pretended to be outraged by the standard of free newspapers today, got off the train, bought coffee (without a paper), got to their desk and read the news online (without a paper). You see the problem.

And so, Rupert the Conqueror stamped his feet and blamed Google, and has flexed his muscles with a few regionals, but where to now? The constant pushing of Times+ over the last year or so was already starting to make people feel uneasy. It somehow didn’t fit with Sunday supplements and boiled eggs at the breakfast table. Much too “If you like to read the Sunday supplements at the breakfast table while eating boiled eggs, you’ll love Times+… Now, give us some dosh.” Much too Murdoch. So how will people feel when he barricades his content in with paywalls and glitch-ridden payment systems?

He had better be extremely sure that the content he is squirreling away behind these walls is more than worth what he’s charging, otherwise the whole venture’s doomed. Former FT and New Statesman editor, Ian Hargreaves recently told us that he believes people will only pay for something they want but they can’t get free.

The problem here though, is Sponge and Spiker all over again. When James dropped the magic bag and the peach grew, Aunts Sponge and Spiker put up a fence and charged people admission to see it. Some people paid. Some people stood on the wrong side of the fence, were savvy enough to realise they could see a pretty sizable piece of fruit perfectly well from there, and went on their way. It has to be all or nothing with paywalls (and peachwalls). If there are still news providers out there refusing to put up paywalls, which there will be if The Guardian sticks to its guns, then a lot of people will go to them instead.

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