The Times paywall site: Wordpress with ooomph?

The revolution in journalism isn’t free – or at least will be televised on pay-per-view – according to News International.
The Times and the Sunday Times revealed their new paywall sites to invited bloggers earlier this week before unleashing it on an eager public tonight and the first impressions are, in a nutshell, ‘well it looks nice, but why would I pay for it?’
Having heard directly from James Murdoch why online news should be paid for earlier this year (see the Abu Dhabi Media Summit elsewhere on this blog), this is a project that has pricked my interest for a while.
I first read newspapers online in 1995 when I started university and was first introduced to the internet. At that time it was slow and cumbersome but at least you were reading the copy for free. But even then, settling down in a chair for ‘a good read’ seemed such a better way to spend your spare time and – let’s face it – take more news onboard.
Today, I flick through UK news sites (as they are known now) with abandon, not caring whether their politic’s be blue, red or yellow as long as the main stories are easy to find and the multimedia is good.
The new-look daily Times could not be simpler. It actually looks like a newspaper front page on a computer screen. It’s text heavy and reminded me of some of the minimalist Wordpress themes, such as Thematic.
The stories are clearly ordered, the pictures are big and there is enough there, especially the news in brief-style  teasers down the right column, to make you click again.
Scrolling down, the site takes on the standard magazine front with people and issues taking precedence over section heads. Those come further down with the most read in the far left column of the footer.
News, Opinion and Business are the first categories away from the home page and both are well laid out. Very clean, big main picture and lots to explore. Again, they remind the visitor of The Times’ layout in print.
Over at the Sunday Times, the emphasis (naturally for a weekly) is on features. A giant featured-post slider meets the reader with the pick of the best stories. Once again, big eye-catching pictures, a write-off and a pronounced multimedia list on the top right of the homepage – the not-too-subtle idea here is ‘take your time’.
Moving the cursor over any of the categories brings up a large pop-up menu of each section. Again, a good ruse for keeping you on the site.
Moving down the Sunday Times’ homepage and the print pull-out sections are broken up with big picture posts. In motoring, Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson now has a button of his own.
In all, it’s a good magazine site, which is part of the problem.
You will notice I haven’t mentioned content yet. That’s because I don’t believe there’s any point. You already know what the content is, it’s The Times of London. It’s been around for a while.
What the paywall represents is a different way of paying for delivery of content, the same way you would tip the paperboy for shoving the thing through your letterbox rather than getting out of bed and down the newsagent yourself.
For me the key question is, ‘This content delivery, is it revolutionary and better than what I can get from elsewhere?’ And the first impression is, sadly for someone who would like to continue working in this industry is ‘no’.
The cost of the new site is £1 a day or £2 a week. Although cheaper than a week’s newspapers it still does not overcome the main obstacle of persuading people to pay for a service they are used to getting for free.
The benchmark the new-look Times has to measure itself against is The Guardian, which has said it will remain free, and in this contest it comes out second best.
You will notice in my description of the site I use terms that are probably more akin to someone reviewing a premium Wordpress theme. That’s intentional, because that’s how the earlier edition of this new site looks.
The text excerpts on The Times homepage feel like like someone couldn’t be bothered to put a synopsis in there. Of course, if you are removing your website from Google and other search engines then SEO does not come into play.
However, my first impression on looking at the site was that I’d seen this before. And I’d seen it for free on Wordpress. The main story font on The Times even reminded me of the one I am using now, although I do not have centuries of history and a multi-billion pound media empire behind me (more’s the pity).
If the The Times is the Theamatic theme, then the Sunday Times is the magazine theme. Seriously, scrolling throughout the first impression is basic. My first thought was ‘with an army of content creators, I could do that. Probably at a fraction of the price’.
But perhaps that’s too harsh.
There are only so many ways you can lay out a website and, after all, content is king.
Would I pay for this? Probably not.
Should you? If you can’t do without the Times Online in your life, then yes.
Is it worth it?  Hmm…….
And that’s what we’re all waiting to find out.
What do you think?

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