By: Heidi Kulicke
Q: How can newspapers successfully charge readers for online and digital content, and how can they convince readers the content is worth paying for?
Sean Jaramillo, 22, journalism senior at University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Jaramillo is editor of the student newspaper, The Rebel Yell. After college, he hopes to cover either sports for the New York Daily News or the judiciary for The Washington Post.
Many factors helped the online media industry overtake the print industry, but a huge reason was that the content was free while newspapers had a cost. While ad revenue online can help the medium, being able to charge for digital content will be how the industry grows in the future.
The New York Times made a move in March to charge users a subscription cost after their 20th monthly article, but even that step has its limits. As the 20th article comes closer, readers could jump from paper to paper. In order to keep brand loyalty, the subscription service has to offer something better than what is available for free.
Locally, Greenspun Media Group has a good chance to give this strategy a try. While the Las Vegas Sun serves as the main brand, it has business and entertainment publications running alongside it. Limiting how many human interest or breaking stories are visible could draw users to subscribe, provided that the free content is strong.
ESPN has a similar idea, putting some in-depth columns and potentially major developing stories in their Insider service.
Another idea is a PDF print edition. My paper’s PDF has drawn a consistent viewership in areas too far from campus to pick it up. Charge half of the print-edition price, and companies could draw readers who like the printed version of the paper but want to read it on their iPad or Kindle.
The ability to grow online revenue depends on making readers feel a sense of urgency — that they can only get exclusive and useful content from one source, and that source cannot be found for free.
Matt DeRienzo, 35, group editor for the Connecticut cluster of the Journal Register Co.
JRC’s Connecticut cluster includes the New Haven Register, The Middletown Press, and The Register Citizen, 15 weekly newspapers and four magazines. He has implemented the Open Newsroom and Newsroom Café at the Register Citizen and is currently bringing the entire cluster on board with a fully Digital First philosophy.
You are asking the wrong question. Even paywall models that appear successful in the short-term are a slow-death (but probably not as slow as you think) suicide mission. The Web has opened newspaper readers to a world of information at their fingertips. The Web and mobile devices have allowed readers themselves to be information gatherers and sharers, and to do journalism. The nature of the Web is free and open, and is built on a literal “web” of connections among people, organizations, and ideas.
Paywalls literally put up a “wall” between those connections. They are a sad attempt by an industry that can’t come to terms with the changes that are destroying the print franchise, and ironic because they try to inflict a notion of scarcity and control on the very medium that has killed those concepts. Paywalls are built on a one-sided relationship with readers that no longer exists.
Instead, we should be asking how to better connect with and engage the audience. We should be putting every possible effort into changing our relationship with readers to one based on engagement and partnership, and on monetizing that new relationship. Selling print-style Web banner ads around those “eyeballs” won’t cut it. We need dozens of streams of digital revenue and advertising, sponsorship, partnership, and pay-for-consulting models that leverage all that digital platforms can do for advertisers.
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