Not being on the net doesn't equal not being read
As you'd expect, there has been plenty written in the last few days about The Times paywall, including this piece Sunday in The Observer by David Mitchell, and a response blog from The Telegraph's Shane Richmond. Both articles have interesting comment threads, and I joined in over on Shane's blog, in response to this comment by scrivens:
"Since the pay wall, I've not read a single Times article. But more importantly, I've not cited a single article. And much more important than that, no-one in my social network: Twitter, blogs, etc. has cited one. Not once.
It is as if the Times has been yanked off the net and gone dark. For how much longer will journalists at the Times tolerate not being read? It can hardly be a career move to work for a company where hardly anyone reads your work. Is Matthew Parris happy that his readership has dropped off a cliff? Is Jeremy Clarkson pleased that no-one is being riled by him?"
It is an argument that keeps cropping up, but I think it is a slightly misguided one. My hunch is that if you ask Jeremy Clarkson what he cares about, the answer is likely to be how much he gets paid for Top Gear, what his next book deal looks like, and whether The Times still has more than half-a-million print readers. If you tell him that the paywall is stopping people sharing links to his stuff on Twitter and Facebook, I figure he'll probably shrug.
Or, as fellow Times columnist Caitlin Moran so delicately put it on Twitter:
"FUCK YOU I don't want to PAY FOR STUFF i want to live in FREETOPIA with my GRATIS beer and NO-FEE WHORES"
It doesn't seem to me that lack of Internet exposure is a problem for established columnists like Clarkson or Parris or Moran, but there is a clear parallel with the music industry. Prince only gets to do newspaper cover-mounts because of an established reputation and a hefty back catalogue. Radiohead only get to do a "pay what you want model" that works for them because they've had years of conventional success behind them.
The problem for The Times isn't how to keep Clarkson and Moran happy in a world where they can't generate Internet buzz, it is how they build and attract the next Clarkson and Moran when their best content can't go viral.