UK Times Plans Upgrade To Its ‘Berlin Wall’

The Times is planning some changes to its paid digital model that could lead to more nuanced additions to its current hard in-or-out system.

Enders Analysis just published a research paper with this intriguing lead line: “The New York Times is shortly to switch its free desktop and app services into a part-free and part-paid metered system. We also expect the UK Times to switch from its subscription ‘Berlin wall’ to a similar system.

How interesting. Right now, this is at the “gossip” stage. And The Times‘ digital editorial director Tom Whitwell denied to paidContent:UK that a meter model will be implemented; he said the current subscriptions are “going very well” and that The Times’ flavour of the model is the right one.

But we understand The Times does now hope to improve the technology on which it deployed its paid websites last summer. That system was implemented relatively quickly and supports little more than a hard, one-size “wall”.

But it’s thought The Times may want to do more, including possibly harnessing Google (NSDQ: GOOG) OnePass, which could allow for charging of several topical packages of content. That could lead to not so much a New York Times-style meter, by which some articles can be read for free, but for smaller sets of paid content aimed at specific audiences, in addition to the site-wide pricepoint.

The Times and Sunday Times introduced their charges last summer – a flat £1 a day, £2 a week, £9.99-a-month for iPad only or complementary with a print sub; no free content. Numbers News International released in November were too vague to fully assess the strategy properly.

With The New York Times and, reportedly, The Telegraph feeling out more modest, part-paid models, The Times‘ one-big-“wall” approach looks relatively stark to some eyes.

Those eyes even include The Times‘ News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) stablemates – Australia’s News Limited is picking a partial “wall” over News International’s binary model, because it thinks it can retain advertising income and a large audience to which to up-sell.

Despite News Of The World having adopted a similar model to The Times, its sibling The Sun, notably, has not yet introduced or announced any model. So is News International softening… ?

“We believe the subscription and advertising model, which has worked well for decades past, will work well for the digital future,” News International’s commercial managing director Paul Hayes said at Wednesday’s Changing Media Summit, actually paraphrasing Rob Grimshaw, the online MD of Financial Times, which credits its mixed access model (10 free articles per month to registered users) for its paid success.

We believe the blended model is the right model,” Hayes added.

A meter would not be a panacea. The Times‘ current pricing model is at least straightforward. As the geek community’s many efforts at bypassing The New York Times‘ “wall”, even before it’s launched, suggest, metering is not without its own set of challenges.