UPDATE: Fairfax responds to reported Twitter trend after pay wall introduced

Twitter data showing an apparent drop in the number of Tweeps sharing Fairfax opinion articles is, in fact, explained by a change in the way the publisher names its URLs. AAP Image/Paul Miller

UPDATE: Fairfax has responded to a column published on The Conversation – and an earlier version of this story – that linked the introduction of the publisher’s pay wall to an apparent slump in the number of Twitter users sharing Fairfax opinion pieces.

The Conversation reported data from the Australian Twitter News Index (ATNIX), which is compiled by Axel Bruns, Associate Professor in Creative Industries at Queensland University of Technology.

The data set compiled by Associate Professor Bruns showed an apparent slump in the number of Twitter users sharing Fairfax opinion pieces.

In fact, Fairfax has said, the trend reflected in the ATNIX data was explained by a change in the way the publisher named their URLs, such that many of the URLs for op-eds no longer contain the word “opinion” or “comment”.

ATNIX is based on tracking all tweets that contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Their analysis of “opinion” link-sharing includes only those sub-sections of mainstream sites that contain opinion and commentary (e.g. abc.net.au/unleashed, articles on theaustralian.com.au which include “/opinion” in the URL), and compares them with dedicated opinion and commentary sites.

In an email to The Conversation, Fairfax Social Media Editor Georgia Waters said:

“We attribute this change to the fact that on July 4, 2013 - at the time that we introduced our digital subscriptions - we made a root URL change that affected our comment and opinion articles. Where previously all of our political opinion and commentary appeared under a URL including /opinion/, they now all appear under /federal-politics/.”

“Political opinion appears under the /federal-politics/ URL with no opinion or comment in the URL, while all of our non-political opinion now appears under /comment/. (For example, see Annabel Crabb’s latest piece.).

"Axel wasn’t aware of this change and didn’t include the /federal-politics/ URL in his report. As you can see July 4 is about the time his graph shows Fairfax ‘slumping’.”

Associate Professor Bruns had originally said that following the introduction of the pay wall, “it appears that readers of the Fairfax opinion and commentary sections switched off immediately.”

He has now updated his column to say that “as it turns out, the explanation is a little less dramatic than first thought”.

“As part of the changes associated with the pay wall, and with the decommissioning of the National Times, Fairfax’s federal politics opinion articles are now published simply under federal-politics/ URL paths, without opinion/ or*comment/* also in the path. As a result, we no longer have any mechanism for picking up such opinion articles for our ATNIX data – similar to a recent rewiring of URL paths at the ABC. Case solved!”

Andrea Carson, an ex-Fairfax journalist who now researches the rapid changes in the economic model of journalism and lectures at the University of Melbourne, said she saw metered pay walls as part of the solution to the problems facing news publishers.

“Research shows that metered pay walls lose between 5-15% of traffic but they do generate much needed revenue and they reward loyal readers without excluding casual readers. On balance, metered pay walls are part of the solution, not all of it, for successfully monetising digital content,” she said.
This is an updated version of a story published on The Conversation on August 20. This updated version follows a response from Fairfax to the original article.

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