The Times paywall, discipline and game theory

So today’s the day that thetimes.co.uk starts charging for access.  You can still access the front page without paying, but if you try to read any stories it prompts you to pick a payment option (£1 for one day’s access, or £2 for a whole week).

Now I have to be honest and say that I was all set to pay my £2.  It’s a legitimate business expense, and I reckon we could manage £104 per year; I know I’d use it, too, because I currently visit The Times once a day, and often more.  However, perversely, this is what put me off.

I’ve been aware for a while that I probably spend too many work hours reading The Times and The Guardian online, and as I was filling out the order form I suddenly thought ‘hold on, if I DON’T buy it I can still read The Guardian, save £104 AND have more hours in my day’.  If both The Times and The Guardian had implemented paywalls on the same day, I may well have signed up for both; I’d definitely have paid for at least one.

Which brings us on the the game theory.  The question here is: does the news industry as a whole hope to charge online readers for access one day?  If so, then the best time for any one organisation to introduce a paywall is on the same day as their competitors, because if everyone removes their free offering simultaneously, their combined readership had no choice but to stump up some cash, or stop getting their news fix online. The other side of this idea, though, is that remaining free when your competitors start charging is likely to increase your readership at the expense of theirs.  Classic game theory: if the players work together they all win, but if one breaks the convention they stand to make huge gains at the expense of the others.

It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.  You have to admire a ballsy move from Murdoch and co. – however I wonder how many other people will take the opportunity to impose a bit of discipline on their online life and take The Times out of their bookmarks.

Friday, July 2nd, 2010 eBusiness

1 Comment to The Times paywall, discipline and game theory

  1. […] And The Beta Blog looks at paywalls and “game theory”. […]

  2. The Times and Sunday Times: What a paywall looks like | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog on July 2nd, 2010

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