Johnston Press chief digital and product officer Jeff Moriarty has said paid content will be “very much in his mind” as he moves forward with the role he took up two months ago.
Speaking at The Scotsman’s Future of the Media in Scotland conference, Moriarty gave an overview of his background at the Boston Globe and how the brand introduced a paid-for content model, adding it was something he would have in mind in the time ahead.
“I came into this job with an understanding of the paid content space,” he said. “I don’t yet know how it applies here in Scotland or the rest of the UK; it’s a different media landscape and there’s a lot more competition here than there is in the US.
“You have the BBC, the national newspapers, so I don’t know how this applies yet but it’s something very much in my mind as I move forward at Johnston Press.”
Moriarty added that, as an American, the idea of “government-funded journalism” was a “completely foreign concept” and something unlikely to happen in the US.
Before taking up the role at Johnston Press, Moriarty spent 20 years at the New York Times Company, which owned the Boston Globe until last year when it sold the title to John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, for $70m.
He was involved in the creation of the Boston Globe’s first websites and the development of a paid content system in 2011 that served three main reader groups the business identified through web analysis.
“What we saw was that you’re either willing to pay for content of you’re not, price ultimately doesn’t matter, it’s an on/off switch at this point,” he said.
“We could have very easily just thrown up a [pay]wall on Boston.com – I think you’ve seen some instances of that here in the UK – and we would have failed I believe, because what we saw was that there were these three really distinct groups of users.”
The Boston Globe created platforms and packages to suit the main groups identified – which covered the scale from casual readers with no brand affinity to loyal customers – and when Moriarty left to take the Johnston Press job the title had 70,000 paying subscribers.
However, the future of paid content is something Moriarty believes will be best-served on a micro-payment model similar to that of iTunes, although he said it could take years for the industry to create it.
“I think micro-payments for content are ultimately the future,” he said. “It’s probably a few years away. It will probably be pioneered by another industry and the people like us in the content space will be able to benefit from that. I think it’s just a matter of time before we start to see more of that kind of experimentation.”
Speaking to The Drum after the event, Moriarty said Johnston Press had no pressing plans to introduce paid content, but that it was something all of the industry should be looking at.
“I think the UK market is different from the US,” he said. “I think there is probably less willingness to pay from what I can tell at this moment but I do believe there is some value in having some consumer paid revenue streams – we charge for the newspaper every day, after all.
“We’re always looking at that and in this industry we have to be.”
Johnston Press, which owns 250 local and national newspaper titles, has implemented massive cuts in recent years in a bid to shed debt and monetise its titles amid digital changes in the industry.
In March, the publisher announced losses of £286.8m, and shortly afterwards announced the sale of its 14 Republic of Ireland titles for £7.2m after paying around £115m to acquire them in 2005.