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Charities pay the price for paywalls

6 April 2010

We may not like media paywalls but we need to pay for them, says Bright One's Ben Matthews

Rupert Murdoch's The Times has followed in the path of the New York Times and announced that they were going to be launching a paywall for the online version of the paper, Times Online.

Like other publications, such as the Financial Times, The Times have proposed a £1 per day charge, with £2 getting you a week's access.

This move is being hotly debated in the media, and it is what many have described as an inevitable move in the face of falling advertising revenues and newspaper circulation. Other newspapers suffering from an equally dismal future are expected to make similar announcements, in an attempt to curtail the drop in revenue that has been a steady feature in recent years.

Paywalls will hit charities

As communicators, we will need to pay for these subscriptions whether we like it or not. It is our job to keep up with the news and the publications that report it, with many agencies still sifting through the papers every day and reporting back the main stories of relevance, both internally to colleagues and externally to clients. Services such as Google Alerts and RSS Feeds have enabled us to keep up with the latest announcements in close to real time, but those services will soon be limited as articles of interest begin to be placed behind paywalls.

This move is likely to hit charities and social enterprises, who have barely enough resources to pay for proper comms support, harder than commercial companies. Of course, newspapers have to make money, but social enterprises and charities are not really equipped to absorb these new costs – and there is no word of any support if other publications follow suit and move behind paywalls.

The Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) announced a similar move towards the end of last year, requiring organisations copying and distributing online content from publications to pay for the privilege. At least the NLA accommodates charities to an extent, as the licence is tailored to suit the specific copying needs of individual charities from "scanning, emailing of scanned content, receipt of hyperlinks from a licensed press cuttings or PR agency, and/or the sharing of links via a secure company intranet.

Reserving resources 

It would be interesting to see if publications who put up paywalls offer similar discounted services to charities, and indeed even the NLA is far from perfect: licensed copies of digital content can only be accessed and stored for up to 28 days following publication, after which they must be deleted. Will this mean people simply gravitate towards the free content of the Guardian's popular site? Should we all write a letter to Murdoch asking for charities to be exempted?  Or can we support each other by flagging up Times stories to our mates in other charities?

Although the full extent of the media's move behind paywalls is yet to play out, it's something that all charities and the communicators working in them should be aware of; and they should be planning to put aside extra resources to pay the price for paywalls (as difficult as it may be in current times).

What are your thoughts on paywalls, and how will it affect your charity's communications activity?