The Times paywall flags up a lot of the challenges facing the publishing industry and its ability to get back on some kind of even keel. There have been lots of stones thrown at The Times for what is seen as some blind, desperate attempt to put the old pay model on the new world, but I believe it represents a major shift.
1. They are doing something
Many businesses and publishers are in fear and denial about what is going on with their business. One thing you can be sure of, the team down at The Times will be onboard with the fact that something advertising alone won't work and thats why they are having to do something. They are starting to address the problem.
I was at an IAB event recently and there were a number of publishes talking about initiatives that were driving large traffic levels, but you knew that traffic volume is not their problem. Its how do you sell the traffic. Innovation with platform, technology, ad format, content strategy, structure is all good but when was the last time you saw someone innovate with their commercial model? (and please don't talk about behavioral - not to be harsh, that wasn't their idea)
2. They are talking about users
Customer, customer, customer. No more talking about the intergalactic figures that no one understands
Publisher:"We have 3.2 million unique users and 129 million impressions, with even more ad impressions and we are far bigger than everyone else, who we know are confused and challenged like us"
Adevrtisers: - "That’s great - can I buy those 3 million people? with an ad"
Publisher: "Don't be daft, you can buy impressions though"
The Times are thinking about people (albeit a small number). They have set up a model that gets the business thinking about users and the revenue they generate. Publishers are going to have to start to take some reader money directly (through subs) or indirectly (through commercial deals) at some point and the sooner everyone (ad sales and editorial) start to talk about their revenue per user the quicker things will start to improve.
I would bet that more people at The Time are getting their calculators out and working out what the ad revenue per user is vs. subscription - that in itself is quantum leap.
There are some great pieces of analysis that are worth a read - Beehivecity has had a good dig round the numbers and really look at what the possibilities are.
99% of publishing businesses have editorial one side and commercial on the other. They don't meet until they report into the CEO. “churches, needing each other, but very different. I believe the journey that The Times has started on is cultural and for once a business has potentially unified the business under a common cause and goal.