Monday, December 10, 2012

Will Washington Post Cut it Own Throat and Charge Internet Readers?

One of the phenomenons that has been interesting to watch is the reaction of old fashioned newspapers to the rise of the Internet and the exploding accessibility to news through alternate outlets.  Yes, most newspapers have a web version, but historically their main revenue has come from advertising sales in print editions.   Indeed, the two main local papers in Hampton Roads continue to operate their papers as a frame work for selling advertising and actual news content has become filler between the advertising pages.  Worse yet, as the ad revenues have dropped, writers and columnists have been eliminated and the quality of what news and opinion pieces continue to exist has plummeted thereby accelerating the death spiral.  Some newspapers have reacted by charging web readers - a move that I believe in the longer term will simply drive web readers away and ultimately lead to even fewer subscribers and readers.   

Two cases in point: the New York Times and the local Daily Press.  The latter requires that either one be a 7 day a week print edition subscriber or a paid online subscriber in order to access news articles online.  What's been my reaction?  I simply no longer even bother with the Daily Press and all links to that publication have disappeared from this blog.  That's right, they are 100% gone - as are blog readers who might have followed the link for the full article.  That translates to fewer over all visitors and fewer page view - which leads to advertisers being even less willing to purchase ad space in either version of the newspaper.  

The New York Times hasn't been quite as stupid as the folks at the Daily Press and one can still get 10 free articles per month (20 if one has two computers with different IPS addresses).  So what happens on this blog?  After the free articles for any given month have been used up, all links to New York Times stories disappear from this blog until the following month.  Meanwhile, there is reduce link trough traffic, fewer pages views, and advertisers are less willing to pay for advertising space.  As with the Daily Press, it is a case of being penny wise and pound foolish. 

Now the Washington Post seems poised to cut its own throat and implement some sort of pay for web access scheme.  My prediction?  People will not be willing to pay for it.  A piece on Andrew Sullivan's blog looks at the thoughts of other critics of what I suspect will be a failed strategy:

Rod Dreher, for one, isn't buying the WaPo's subscription strategy:
[I] visit its site multiple times per day, and often come away with articles to link to and comment on. Would I pay for it? No, I wouldn’t. If I lived in Washington, or wrote mostly about politics on this blog, I would. But I live in Louisiana, and besides, I already pay a lot of money to subscribe to a quality national newspaper, The New York Times. I keep going back and forth about whether to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal’s digital edition, because I love the Weekend Review section so much. The problem is that subscribing to the Times costs over $400 a year. Do I have an extra $300 lying around to subscribe to the Journal too? I do not. It has to be one or the other. I need to rethink which one it’s going to be. One reason I’ve stuck with the Times is that it’s much easier to use their links in this blog.

TNC, unlike Dreher,"read[s] the Post online enough to say that I would pay for this". But:
The problem with the Post is that the paper has been so decimated that you wonder whether they still have a product they can sell. I wonder if the Post basically got it backwards--they tried to save by cutting, but in cutting damaged the product (and the brand), and now the Post is trying to get people pay a much less substantial product. It seems it would have been smarter to charge when you had something you knew you could charge for.
In the case of the Daily Press, it truly is no longer worth paying for.  Indeed, the Press' headquarters building is now for sale  as a cost cutting measure.  Charging for online reading is only going to hasten the Press' death.  I hope the Post doesn't follow the Daily Press' model of slow suicide.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The websites for the New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and several others that I used to visit on a daily basis (and where I would click on a few ads out of the goodness of my heart) are now out of my bookmarks, out of my autocomplete lists, all of that. Why? I can hit 5, 10 articles in a day! After that, they're worthless to me.

I think the problem is that web advertising is a notoriously poor way to generate revenue. The click through rate is in the tenths of a percent of "ad displays" (meaning the number of people who click an ad versus the number of times the ad is displayed on the site). No matter how targeted the advertising, people simply don't click on the links, and as much as we hate to admit it, it costs money for hard drive space, bandwidth, and content management applications. Big money. I know at least three local TV stations that pay something like $100,000 a year each for their website hosting (oddly enough, all from the same company - I know who's getting rich from this venture and it isn't the TV stations). I bet they're not making even a tiny part of that back in real revenue - perhaps they're at the point they're breaking even, but that usually involves co-op buys, and tie-ins with on-air advertising, so it's pretty muddled in the bookkeeping department. But since you can see their product on the air for free (albeit with ads), it's harder for them to charge for access to their websites.

Here in Richmond, you can go to the Times-Dispatch's "website" and see a stripped down version of the newspaper, or subscribe for $99/year for an Adobe Air version of the printed version, complete with all ads and inserts. That's a fair amount less than the print subscription. And you can click on an article, read it in pure text in a window, and then go back to the "print" version to continue perusing the news. You can also zoom in and read the "print" version, though with jumps, it's easier to click and read text. I think they've figured it out.

I must say though, that having been a paperboy back in the day, I miss getting ink on my fingers, ya know? I still buy a Sunday paper from a local convenience store a lot of weeks, and enjoy sitting in the recliner reading it from one end to the other.

Online, stripped down, Adobe Air, 5-10-20 stories a month, I figure in 10 years, print journalism will be gone. And considering the quality of the online content I see - the grammar is awful, the spelling worse, and oh my stars, the story structure is horrible, and paragraphs are devastatingly AWFUL. But until they can get a true return on investment on the online product, that's what we must expect.

OK, this turned into a blog post on its own. I'll be tweaking it so I can charge for it after you've read it 2 times! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Peace <3