Friday, March 22, 2013

Pay To Read: Still Waiting

I’m still waiting to see what difference it makes paying to read the online version of the Seattle Times, Bellingham Herald, Skagit Valley Herald, The News Tribune of Tacoma, The Olympian, Vancouver Sun, Times-Colonist, and Globe and Mail makes— aside from paying for what previously didn’t cost me to read.

I guess I’ve been waiting to see how much more added value there would be with a paywall in place: broader community news coverage, deeper coverage, multi-media formats— things that can distinguish online publications from print publications.

Having addressed this previously, Erecting the Paywall to Save the Product  and Pay-To-Read —What?, I’m disheartened to see that what people pay to read newspapers for — news — shrinks away as newsrooms shrink. I know that newspapers are businesses but to ask people to pay more for less and less seems like going into a death spiral. Less readers, less advertisers, less revenue.

So it’s at least a bit heartening to read the Columbia Journalism Review and to find in a depressing article about the evisceration of the New Orleans Times-Picayune a mention of another business model, a “contrasting vision of a digital future.”

“Consider the Orange County Register, a similar-sided paper that was purchased by the Aaron Kushner-controlled Freedom Communications in June,” writes Ryan Chittum. “Kushner boosted print pages by 40 percent and added a new business section. He’s installin a metered paywall, raising print prices, and even improving paper stock. Most important, he has gone on a hiring spree, expanding the newsroom by 50 percent. From 180 to 270.... Kushner’s idea is that newspapers can’t cut their way to survival, let alone prosperity... Diminishing your journalism means chasing away readers and advertisers who have paid you good money.”

According to Chittum, “The New York Times has preserved the size of its dominant newsroom at the expense of its profit margin, and devised a digital-subscription model that others in the the industry are emulating. As a result, last year the Times’s revenue was up for the first time in six years, despite continued print-advertising declines.”

Maybe in the long run the business model of the Orange County Register and The New York Times won’t work, but I learn something new every time I read The New York Times online because they report news in addition to the staple of sports and entertainment. I’ll continue reading it online and in print when I can. And I’ll keep waiting to see when the local paywalls start paying off for me when I read the local newspapers.

Meanwhile, read former AP reporter Curt Woodward's blog on Newspaper Paywalls: Here's Why They’re Really Doing It.

What are you reading these days?

--Mike Sato

1 comment:

  1. I think in the early 50's, newspapers were among the first businesses to hire psychologists to help create advertising. Now it seems like a guys with big 2x4s and fire-hoses do a lot of it! Advertising is everywhere!

    Do you think the Sports on-line services will ever need paywalls? I wonder if maybe the professional sports organizations (NFL, NBA, ...) subsidize those (via legal advertising) enough.