Online readers of the Sunday Times must have got a fright this weekend. For ever such a long time, South Africa’s best-read, best-loved Sunday paper has been available, for free, on the Web. No more. This week, those readers were greeted by a simple message that read: “Times have changed” and that “quality journalism comes at a price”.
Paywall! Those readers – including this one – must have shrieked. And no amount of clicking took them through to those elusive stories, unless they’d been designated to be featured on the TimesLIVE site.
Derek Abdinor, general manager of AvusaLIVE, sees it differently. “A paywall is a block on content that you must pay in order to access the content. The Sunday Times content in web form is not available, so we are rather offering other ways to access it. We prefer to call it simply a content block,” he says.
Access now comes through a couple of apps. There’s the Sunday Times Editor’s Choice, designed for iPad. This is the coffee and croissant version of the papers, a quick read of what editor Ray Hartley deems the best content in the paper. Subscribers will also get news updates from sister newspaper, The Times, during the week.
Then there’s Sunday Times and The Times E-editions, that like many of their international counterparts, provide a digital version of the papers, while also allowing readers to share interesting items of news with family and friends via email, Twitter and Facebook.
It seems this move has come out of the blue, despite South Africa’s newspaper readers waiting in anticipation for quality content to be monetised.
“ We launched softly, without aggressive advertising,” Abdinor ays. “The best marketing is what we’ve done with the content block: you want the story then and there, then here are the options.
“We’ve had mixed responses – some readers were annoyed that they could not get free content, others wanted to know more about how to use their e-editions,” says Abdinor.
The e-edition, he explains, is that the platform for 2240 newspapers, including all major ones in this country, from 97 countries and in 54 languages.
“The e-edition has been around for a long time, and our offering to international readers. The Sunday Times e-edition is quite recent as we didn’t just want a glorified headline reader. These are articles that the editors of South Africa’s premier newspapers deem important to you – it’s about quality journalism,” he says.
The pricing, Abdinor says, “pricing is determined by using print newspaper guidelines and what we believe is acceptable to the market”.
The Editor’s Choice app (iPad) can be downloaded from the Apple App Store at $0.99 a week.
The E-edition, available across all tablets and most smartphones via Press Reader, has various pricing models available to subscribers, including a bundled Sunday Times and The Times package at R173 over three months. Readers are offered a free two-week trial.
The question is, have advertisers welcomed the move? Abdinor is coy. “Advertisers will be getting greater exposure once we have some history behind us. For now its business as usual.”
Last word goes to Mike Robertson, action CEO of Avusa and a former editor of the paper. “The Sunday Times and The Times play an important role in South Africa’s news conversation, and we need to continue to deliver on this, regardless of the platform,” he says. “We also know that quality journalism, which both papers are built on, comes at a price. With the move to digital delivery we’ve been cognisant that we needed to develop new sources of revenue, but also provide an affordable pricing model for our loyal readers.”