The Nikkei turns its back on the internet

There’s been much talk recently about newspaper websites setting up paywalls: both the New York Times and the Times (of London) will soon follow in the footsteps of the Wall Street Journal by charging users for access to most of their articles. Here in Japan, meanwhile, the Nikkei has gone one better (or should I say worse?): linking to any of its articles – and even its home page – now requires a written application.

The newspaper, with an estimated daily circulation of 3.1 million, is fiercely protective of its intellectual property. Subscribers currently pay a monthly fee of JPY4,000 (approx. £28) for online access, which is a mere JPY383 cheaper than a subscription to the print edition.

The Nikkei said that it implemented the new policy to prevent links coming from “inappropriate” sites, and to stop non-subscribers from viewing articles.

Have you ever heard of a website requiring a written application for linking to its home page? No, I didn’t think so, and for good reason: it’s a completely mental idea. I, for one, am intrigued to know what they mean by inappropriate sites. Perhaps someone at has been trying to attract a more up-market audience by adding a bit of business news to its front page (probably titled “Stocks and C…”).

As for the non-subscribers viewing articles issue, well, I’ve never heard of such a problem before. If a non-subscriber clicks on a link to an article behind a paywall, then surely he/she simply gets directed to an “access denied” page?

In all honesty, though, this kind of backward-looking approach to putting content online isn’t surprising. The Japanese newspaper industry doesn’t really know what to do about the internet. There is a tendency to emphasise the negatives of going online (the loss of traditional print subscriptions and advertising revenue) over the positives (capturing a moneyed youth audience that gets most of its news from mobile phones and TV). This in turn influences how much money newspapers allocate to their online divisions. Some Japanese newspaper websites, for example, are appallingly designed; in fact they often look like they were last spruced-up in the late 1990s.

Until Japanese newspapers start to see serious drops in their (currently massive) circulation figures and profit margins, they will want to stay within the warm, womb-like confines of traditional paper-and-presses for as long as humanly possible.

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  1. Obviously, it is better if the Japanese news papers just close down their websites (or lock it for non-subscribing members—which means the same for me), than to take the German approach if yelling for the state, complaining against Google because they were stealing their content etc. not seeing that they could just forbid Google via robots.txt. However, they never really did this, because Google probably had some advantages for them which they did not want to admit.

    I do not really care if some news papers die online, as long as there are some good ones who understand online media (e.g. the British Guardian which even distributes full-content feeds). I guess there will also be new newspapers who understand the new media. I do not know, why strong news papers do not use their brand to establish a fan market. Reading big news papers like “Süddeutsche Zeitung” in Germany is (in my opinion) also a type of life style and I could imagine buying a T-shirt of Süddeutsche Zeitung.

    The American news papers could have also used donations, at least I heard that donations work very well in the US. As for Germany, donation based payments are not really good—as far as I know. However, they could work if there was a good and easy system to donate 1€.

    There could be even more thoughts, but I guess I’ll stop for now ;-)