News Limited staff are unhappy after being required to pay to read their own content behind The Australian’s new paywall. In an email sent to News staff last week, corporate affairs have offered the same three-month trial being marketed to ordinary punters, but with a "special staff discount of up to 50 per cent".
One News Limited employee told New Matilda he thought the payment was "a bit of a joke … why should we have to pay for something we worked to produce?"
Although staff have been aware of the switch to paywalled content for some months, having to sign up to read their own premier masthead was a development "sprung on us in the last couple of days".
"People aren’t happy about it. I mean, we all want the paywall to succeed — at least our company has some direction, unlike Fairfax — but this is a joke."
An internal memo posted on 20 October from News Limited CEO John Hartigan describes the paywall move as "a major step in the creation of a sustainable model for quality journalism in Australia" and reassures staff "All of our research and all the indications are that people will pay for great journalism". No mention was made in the memo of News staff being required to subscribe.
According to New Matilda’s source, the "upper echelons" at News analogise the paywall-free relationship of The Australian and its tabloids to the hustle required to get people to pay for cable when they already had free-to-air TV. "We managed to get people to pay for Foxtel, but it remains to be seen whether it’ll work on the internet." The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun sites will remain free for the time being.
The memo also spruiks News’ new blog, www.futureofjournalism.com.au. The blog features interviews, mainly from journalists working at The Australian, on the relationship between online and print journalism. In the site’s title animation the company maintains that major mastheads remain responsible for driving content across new and social media platforms, a statement that clashes with the requirement that News staff should subscribe to promote their own content on sites like Twitter.
Andrew Birmingham, a former associate published at Fairfax’s paywalled Australian Financial Review has pointed out that the pricing plans for digital content — $2.95/week for full digital access, vs $7.95/week for digital + print delivery — send "a clear signal to a rational buyer to abandon print, if they are in a position to do so," but that advertising revenue online, hardly worth the pixels it’s displayed on, is unlikely to increase in value behind the paywall: "It’s the same audience, just smaller — not exactly a recipe for rate increases. Savvy advertising buyers will have them on toast."
No wonder then, that News’ staff will be made to pay.
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