Media predictions 2009, Part 4: Total removal of The Irish Times paywall

My fourth Irish media prediction for 2009:

The Irish Times has been quite impressive of late when it comes to its online content, however it is still forcing a subscription on printed content more than a year old. By 2010 I believe this awkward limitation will be gone.

While The Irish Times was an industry leader when it came to online content of any description, up until recently its presence was hindered by the decision to put everything behind a pay-wall. Last year’s move from to, and the merging of print and online news-rooms, saw this pay-wall come down on the daily newspaper’s content at least and you can be sure online readership sky-rocketed.

Perhaps of equal significance, there has been an expansion in their breaking/rolling news and blog-based content with some of the ‘paper’s most high-profile journalists regularly contributing online news and comment in addition to their printed work. Some Irish Times staff have even begun Tweeting, showing real enthusiasm and interest in new media and its potential.

However while many journalists are making the most of the company’s latest push to grow online, the appeal of the newspaper’s web-based service is severely limited by the decision to put a price-tag on newspaper content over a year old.

So if someone wishes to read these articles – or even play soduku for that matter – they must pay anything from €10 a day to €395 a year. What is odd about this decision is that it is based on the same flawed logic of the old pay-system used in The Irish Times, only it’s more expensive.

Clearly the company reckons that researchers and readers wishing to access old content will be happy to pay a premium to do so, just like they previously thought they would to read daily content. The fact is, however, that other Irish newspapers offer their content at no cost and while it may not be as user-friendly to search through it is worth it for the savings made. So it’s not a case of paying The Irish Times or not getting what you want, it’s a case of simply spending a bit more time looking elsewhere.

Under these circumstances, The Irish Times cannot truly claim to be the newspaper of record or reference for Ireland today, as its pay-wall does not allow for either. Instead the reference points in an Irish, online context are fast becoming The Irish Independent and The Irish Examiner, both currently below The Irish Times in terms of their websites’ quality but far more attractive simply do to their cost-less nature.

It will become apparent to The Irish Times during 2009 that very few people wish to pay €395+ just to access their archives. Most of their previous subscribers would have left once they found they could get the daily newspaper for free, while researchers and students can access the information and material elsewhere at no cost if they wish to do so.

The Irish Times will probably decide to keep a subscription service on some content but for the most part they will remove it on their articles by December. They will continue to charge for access to their digital archive, along with other premium services such as photo-sales and dating services however I believe all but the oldest printed content will be offered for free to the masses before this year is out.

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