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Fairfax Media has joined News Limited in erecting paywalls around much of its content.

Online readers of Fairfax’s flagship newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, now have to pay to get full access to content.

Fairfax’s financial newspaper, The Australian Financial Review, has had a paywall around much of its content for two years. Fairfax joins Australia’s largest media group, News Corp Australia (known as News Limited until this week) in charging for content.

There are number of packages. For $15 a month, you can get unlimited website access. For $25 a month, you get the ‘All digital’ website plus tablet app, with home delivery of the Saturday and Sunday editions thrown in if you want them. The prices are more expensive than those for News Corp content. Murdoch charges by the week – $2.95 for the ‘Digital Pass’ (no extra for a tablet app) and $5.90 for digital plus a single weekend paper.

Opposition Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull, in an interview with ABC TV, said that Fairfax should have moved faster to embrace the digital world. “They should have dominated the electronic classifieds market, which they failed to do. But they have moved a lot faster than most American newspapers.

“Total paywalls, where all content is only available to subscribers, has not worked. The Times tried it, but part of the problem is that journalists’ work becomes invisible to social media. You can’t tweet articles.

”The metered or ‘freemium’ model, which The New York Times has used successfully, gives a certain number of articles for free, and after that you have to be a subscriber. That seems to be the best. I think Fairfax is taking the right approach.”

Turnbull says newspapers are not suffering through lack of readership. “There are more people reading newspapers than ever before. The problem is the revenue has migrated onto other platforms. For every $10 of print revenue they lose, they gain only $1 of online revenue. It’s a revenue problem, not a readership problem.”

Turnbull also spoke about the necessity of keeping news local, in a world where content from all over the world is easily available. “If you’re not able to give people a sense of what’s happening around their own environment, there’s less and less reason for them to read an Australian newspaper or website as opposed to international sources.”

The longer you deny it’s happening the harder it is. If you refuse to cannibalise your legacy business while you build your new one, the more likely it is someone else will cannibalise it for you.

Fairfax is also being attacked online by UK newspaper The Guardian, which started an Australia online only edition – with no paywall – earlier this year. The Guardian appeals to the same demographic as The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, derided by its opponents as ‘left leaning’ (it’s not so long ago that The Age was often referred it as ‘The Spencer Street Soviet’).

Unencumbered by the necessity of producing a print edition, The Guardian in Australia produces an Australian edition with substantial high quality local content, much of it written by ex News and Fairfax journalists.  And you don’t have to pay for it.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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