Murdoch puts back plan to charge for websites

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The Independent Online

Rupert Murdoch's adventures in cyberspace have suffered a number of setbacks, the media mogul admitted to investors last night.

Three months after declaring that all his newspapers would start to charge for their websites, the owner of The Sun, The Times and The Wall Street Journal sounded a retreat, saying that a June deadline for imposing fees was not now likely to be met.

And he was forced to admit that a much-vaunted tie-up between his social networking site MySpace and Google was going to fall far short of producing the $900m once expected.

Mr Murdoch said in August that the journalism coming out of his newspapers and television news channels would be "platform neutral but never free" and said he was working on a project to put up a "pay wall" to protect the value of internet content which would be in place by the end of News Corp's financial year next June. But last night he said: "I wouldn't promise we're going to meet that date. It's a work in progress and there's a huge amount of work going on, not just at our sites but with other people."

Because few news organisations have ever successfully charged for web content, executives are struggling to predict what might be the effect of imposing fees, particularly since there are always likely to be competitors who do not charge, such as the BBC. Mr Murdoch refused to comment any further on the reasons for the delay, or on whether he was rethinking the promise entirely.

The mogul was speaking after News Corp produced a 9 per cent increase in quarterly profits but revealed disappointing figures at MySpace. Google had guaranteed to pay the company $900m over three years in order to place adverts against search queries on the site, but the amount of traffic has fallen below the promises MySpace made to Google and the $900m figure is no longer guaranteed. News Corp executives said it would be "about $100m" less.

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