I started writing this blogpost 2 days ago when I came across a post by Akkuża about the Times of Malta’s new subscription feature for overseas viewers.

The news left me shocked and a little puzzled. Why would the Times of Malta go for the ever failing subscription model? And, while we’re at it, why not make any distinction about which content needs a subscription and which content does not (for overseas viewers).

In the meantime, I abandoned the blogpost and continued on my merry way, selfishly thinking this is not going to really affect me.

Oh naïve me, the subscription for overseas viewers was nothing but a trial run. Today, Times of Malta have announced they will be going premium as of the 13th of May.

Times of Malta premium

What does this entail?
In essence a reader will be charged €2.99 weekly to access the news portal. A little bit of Maths will tell us that amounts to €12.00 a month, €155.50 a year – at least the pricing model does not feel too cumbersome, I spend more on iPhone apps which I forget by the end of the month. But, why not provide discounts for yearly subscriptions? It’s Sales and Marketing 101, not rocket science.

Their full page advert goes; “It’s now time for YOU to think of new ways how to obtain your news”, then continues to list the advantages of having a subscription – “Premium Content – All the exclusive stories, plus opinions, analysis, blogs and videos”.

This is where I really hope TOM will be distinguishing between their content. Frugality being the key word here, simply put, no one will pay to read news which is freely available elsewhere.

Taking the recent news about Reno Bugeja being appointed head of news at TVM, this can be accessed for free on The Malta Independent, MaltaToday and Di-ve.com for the English speaker, together with the mediocre TVM news site which still needs a lot of work, but is, at a snail’s pace, slowly getting there.

This will alienate TOM readers and there will be a sharp drop in site views, further denting advertising within the news site itself. Content distinction is important. Yes I might pay a subscription fee to read an insightful opinion piece, or one of my favorite blogs, even a well written feature or a kick ass interview, but not something which I can get on another website, for free.

Furthermore, if I am paying a subscription fee I expect a certain standard. The minute I see an opinion piece of some politician trying to ram down his/her ideals down my throat, or some mediocre piece by Gift of Life which is only printed because there was nothing better to publish I’m hitting the unsubscribe button.

Yes, QUALITY over quantity, something Times of Malta need to grasp quickly if changing to this model.

Time to cut some slack
Newspapers have been bleeding money from every orifice since the dawn of online news. This is not an easy business, and TOM have taken a bold step. They need to be ready for criticism, and they need to be fluid, ready to make the necessary changes. It’s not going to be an easy ride for sure, especially since standards need to go way up, and yes that includes proper moderation of comments. 

Just in case you’re looking for a way to bypass the Times of Malta paywall I have some good news for you, that is, you don’t have to a be a rocket scientist. Using Mac it was as simple as turning my javasript off, but if you want to learn more head over to MarkBiwwa’s article