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APN boss: Herald, Stuff could share single paywall

Over the past two days, I've spoken to APN NZ CEO Martin Simons a couple of times about restructuring and reshuffles.

At one point the conversation segued to paid online subscriptions.

Mr Simons volunteered that one possibility was for APN (publisher nzherald.co.nz) to share paywall infrastructure with Fairfax (publisher of Stuff.co.nz). The pair could implement a single paid sign-up system, but still compete for subscriptions and otherwise operate with complete independence.

The APN boss said his company had a small team monitoring paywall developments overseas – and will no doubt be aware that a shared system is not without precedent.

The Guardian recently reported that in Slovakia no less than nine media organisations have banded together to implement a single subscription system. In effect, a whole country had been put behind a paywall.

There is a similar jape in Poland.

Mr Simons stressed APN was still assessing many different paywall models, and if any would fit with the company's aim to generate more revenue online. There had been no formal talks with Fairfax.

Fairfax NZ boss Allen Williams was travelling and not immediately available for comment.

I still can't see how a paywall can work for general news (unlike business, where often the boss pays and/or people get information they can use at work, or the classic news-you-can-use example of Consumer's paywall).

But if the mainstream papers do go down that route, sharing paywall infrastructure could potentially save money and time.

More, it would solve the tricky "Who goes first?" problem.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz

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Comments and questions

Surely that will run foul of monopoly regulation?

I don't see why. They would still fight like cats and dogs over subscribers, and content would be completely independent as it is today.

Same goes for sharing printing presses or, if we hop industries, phone companies sharing celltowers - which happens in a lot of countries. Lowers costs but doesn't dampen competition.

They would be using their collective market power of dominance of news-oriented traffic to make everyone start paying for news. Imagine, for example, if only one of them decided to erect a paywall. The traffic would simply migrate to the other.

The fact that this is out in the public domain makes one wonder whether they are talking to each other about erecting a wall each at around the same time, which in itself is clearly anti-competitive.

Beyond saving on logistics, I'd see the whole point of the exercise as solving the "who goes first problem."

Assuming they ever go done this path, APN and Fairfax would maybe be up for anti-competitive accusations if they set the same price (I'm not sure if leaving Stuff readers with no option to migrate to the Herald for free news, or vice versa could be characterised as anti-competitive - though it's guaranteed some degree of backlash).

But they are still going to fight like cats and dogs for stories and subscribers and advertisers.

And even on pricing they could share, say, a common sign up system and billing but have different approaches to, say, how many pages you can view free under a metered model.

To charge or not charge is the big question - not price or terms.
And collusion to charge is collusion.

Why don't they just merge or swap assets and be done with it? Fairfax might as well just rename itself "Major Trade Me Shareholder Ltd", because it's the only thing it has of value on the balance sheet, and just get out of print. APN seems intent on selling assets to divert attention from the fact the plane can't be pulled out of the dive. Someone needs to do something bold.

AND… (I’ll just ride this hobby horse a bit longer…) I feel for the hurt Mr Simons must be feeling sitting astride a wheezing, staggering dying elephant. It can’t be much fun, (and probably smells) but where are the shareholders demanding some action?!

The banks won’t, because it’ll just crystalise their position. The only comfort he must have is that his mate Mr Hywood has an equally tortured stead and they can whoop and holler “race you to being dead..!”.

Surely these highly paid execs can come up with something smarter than selling assets and laying off journos?

The problem with the people running the Herald is that they can't agree on a plan. But when they do, they can't stick with it for longer than four weeks before it is revisited and changed. Then the next plan gets four weeks before that is changed.
No one has the guts there to make a plan and stick to it, giving it enough time to bed in and pan out. One knee-jerk reaction after the other.
That's why the firm is in trouble. Too many knives, not enough backs.

Stuff that. I'd go back to reading the hard copy in the staff room/cafe/pub.NEVER pay for online news. Washington Post free, Guardian free, Politico free.

Like most people, I'll just consume my online news elsewere once its behind a paywall.

Daily News needs to be free but I would support a unified paywall system beyond just these two NZ companies for premium content. If the paywall system was open to other publishers (including b2b) then why not?

You need to give a reason to buy the paper, and buy an online subscription... Content you just can not get free, or find online.

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