Encouraging news today for Rupert Murdoch’s paywall experiment, in of all papers, the Guardian, which of course is firmly on the side of free news sites.
Apparently Mediapart, the subscriber-based, web-only news site which broke the Butlergate scandal in France, has grabbed another 5,000 subscribers since it broke the story in June, a rise of 20 per cent.
Mediapart broadcast tapes of the L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt with her lawyers and financial advisers, taken by her butler over a 12-month period, which suggested various forms of illegal activity including tax-dodging by a French budget minister and political interference on behalf of Bettencourt in a legal case.
A further Mediapart scoop was an interview with the heiress’s former book-keeper, who alleged Bettencourt and her late husband illegally financed Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign.
So the scoops have definitely put Mediapart on the map. The question is how many more will it have to produce to avoid the inevitable churn and erosion of subscribers.
News International will find it difficult to come up with equivalent gems— the only recent UK equivalent to the Bettencourt revelations was the MPs expenses scandal broken by the Telegraph last year. Furthermore News International has its print editions as well, which can be picked up from the bookstalls as and when there’s something particularly interesting in them.
And while Murdoch may prevent Google from aggregating its content, any decent story will be picked up by its rivals and then be available free to the rest of the world.
The key will be News International’s business model. How many subscribers will it need to compensate for the advertising?