Scoop plans 'invisible' paywall

Organisations using the website for commercial benefit are “essentially freeloading”, says publisher.

Press release and news hub Scoop is planning to launch an "invisible paywall" that would only charge the website’s "commercial" users while remaining free for the general public.

Co-founder and publisher Alastair Thompson tells NBR ONLINE organisations that use the website for commercial benefit are “essentially freeloading.”

The move comes at a time when Mr Thompson is moving the site from being a private company to a publicly owned not-for-profit, using crowd funding to raise at least $30,000 as part of  “Operation Chrysalis.”

“By creating a publicly owned or publicly accountable news vehicle it might be easier to achieve a sustainable level of subscriptions for Scoop in the long term," he says.

“We can tell who the large users are. The idea is to go to the people who are receiving value out of Scoop’s existence and charge them... At this stage we’re not looking to enforce [the paywall] but if a large user of Scoop objects we could ultimately block them.

“It’s not our intention to do that though, because it’s our belief there are a very large number of businesses that are good natured and willing to pay.”

The former NBR and Dominion Post journalist says the costs to organisations will vary depending on how much they use Scoop.

He says organisations with 1500-4000 people will be asked to pay $2940 per annum but if they have more "we will negotiate." Smaller organisations of 1-19 staff will be asked to pay $420.

Why a paywall?
Mr Thompson hopes Scoop will be the first of many New Zealand media organisations to implement such a model and that more – such as the NZ Herald and Fairfax – will follow.

“There’s a fundamental mismatch between providing private benefits for free and then making an income out of that,” he says.

“We’re in an unusual position where the fact that we are free makes us useful.”

But he says Scoop needs financial support to continue to provide its services.

He wouldn’t comment on the financial state of Scoop other than to say, “Scoop, like most media businesses these days, is struggling in a difficult business environment.”

Scoop never accepts payment for posting press releases, he adds.

Mr Thompson says he is unaware of any similar models and that this is probably the first of its kind.

Scoop already has customers that are willing to pay so Mr Thompson says there is no turning back and the main challenge will be to educate people as to why they should pay.

A new generation
In December Scoop's secured creditor Margaret Thompson (Mr Thompson's mother) took control of the publishing company. Mr Thompson says previous shareholders (the most notable being Craig and Selwyn Pellett) no longer have a stake. He admits neither of the brothers are happy about this.

“The ownership will change completely. We will form it into a trust or perhaps a specially held company.”

Mr Thompson says Scoop is currently looking for new employees as the company transitions to public ownership.

He says he will gradually step down from his role during 2015 but there is no immediate successor in frame.

The crowd funding venture, which has met 10% of its $30,000 goal in a couple of days, will help develop technological improvements and support the new employees, he says.

Asked what will become of existing employees such as news editor Lyndon Hood and political editor Gordon Campbell, Mr Thompson says it will be up to them whether they want to stay on.

Mr Thompson resigned as Scoop’s chief executive and editor in January last year after it was revealed he had taken on the role of interim general secretary for Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party.

His foray into politics lasted just over a week before he resigned from the party and rejoined Scoop.

cgibson@nbr.co.nz