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Does the new website for The Times offer anything new?

Rupert Murdoch's decision to pave the way to charge for online access to The Times and The Sunday Times' content has caught the attention of the entire media community.

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As a precursor to the eagerly anticipated paywall, News International launched separate sites for The Times and The Sunday Times last month.

We asked four media and marketing experts what they thought about the new-look sites ahead of an anticipated paywall later this month.

Vanessa Clifford, head of press at Mindshare

"Newspaper websites are generic with the masthead top left, section headers underneath and a standard online font. The first thing I noticed with the new Times site is it has the same masthead as the paper, which is centered on the screen - this is a small point but one of real difference which firmly links the site to the paper.

"The links continue with the use of the same font and colour pallet as the print product, and although adapted, the layout is reminiscent of the paper.

"This is what makes the sites stand out for me: they are true extensions of the brands in look and feel that are using technology to add to the reporting experience. Will people pay for this? I hope so and I think they have the best chance with these sites."

Dominic Williams, press director at Carat

"I find the layout of it fresh and really easy to navigate allowing me to find the articles I am most interested in. This brings with it real choice and unlike the newspaper there are more sections that I would ignore.

"It being online obviously means there are some great benefits such as being able to search for articles and news stories. Additionally, you can still access older stories and get the additional information that can't be provided in printed newspaper - such as editorial video links to Sky News which can bring the articles to life more. 

"I am concerned that it will be charging a premium for advertisers as I don't totally buy into the fact that readers will be more engaged or targeted. There will obviously be consumers who sign up to this but I wonder how much they will be dipping in and out.

"It is extremely likely that we will see a significant drop of in its online numbers when it is paid only and premium pricing will prohibit advertisers from waiting to use it. But it is still early days and we're finding out what clients think."

Gabrielle Rossetti, media manager at Arena Media

"There is no doubt that the new, revamped Times and Sunday Times websites look a whole lot calmer and more substantial. The navigation is better and the site is definitely more confident in its style. 

"But will the streamlined homepages be enough to deliver the aggregated and presumably more valuable audiences that News International is promising? Once the sites go behind the paywall, users will be asked to pay £2 a week or £1 a day. At that point the content will need to speak for itself.

"What's more, as the sites will be de-listed from Google so readers will be pushed onto the site from the papers and other NI platforms such as Times+. Though users trialing the sites may be high, it won't take much to lose users after the first payment if they do not like what they see.

"These users will be a fickle bunch and  with so much information already available for free, News International will need to find a way of delivering specialist unique content that warrants continued subscriptions. News International has the skeleton, now its needs to prove that the content is there."

Adrian Drury, principal analyst at Datamonitor's Ovum

"Free of the constraints of search engine optimisation (SEO), the site has been designed to look like a broadsheet. While the site is attractive, and News Corp’s management team has conducted extensive testing, it’s possible they may have fallen into the classic research trap: to recycle the Henry Ford cliché, if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

"Secondly, consider what News Corp is asking its audience to pay for (at £1 per day or £2 per week). The lessons from its own Wall Street Journal, which has demonstrated one of the more successful paywall strategies from the last 18 months, are that niche content for niche audiences bears a price that can sustain a subscription model.

"News Corp’s gamble is its belief that The Times brand and roster of bylines delivers sufficient product differentiation from its competitors to justify audience spend. News Corp will find itself in the uncomfortable position of auditing the value of its content against basic price elasticity when its audience is asked to run a query for the same news at zero cost via Google, or pay to access a random un-contextualized library of content.

"Thirdly, News Corp must face the question of traffic volume. The basic mathematics of online media are that in the brutal fight for browser audiences, revenues are a function of audience, audience spending power, and dwell time.

"This is true not only for pure advertising models, but also for models where the audience pays. Converting users to a paid relationship requires the publisher to draw in an audience and then upsell a premium service once they hit the pay-wall. The inherent risk in The Times’ strategy is that timesonline.co.uk stops becoming a destination for web audiences, costing News Corp a critical marketing channel."

Read Arif Durrani's blog on The Times paywall here.

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