Newspapers: Pay Models Coming

There’s been a great deal of newspaper news in the past couple of weeks and I’ve taken a break from writing about it. Revenues continue to decline amid cyclical and secular shifts of ad dollars. Two bellwethers, Gannett and the NY Times, posted results that were pretty grim: Gannett’s profits were down 60% percent in Q1 and the NY Times saw a 27% decline in revenues and a $61 million loss, with Q2 not looking any better.

Against this apocalyptic backdrop almost everyone in the newspaper industry is exploring paid online subscription options. And a new company Journalism Online is building a payments infrastructure to support that effort. But what prompted me to write this post is the email I received yesterday from Hearst’s SF Chronicle:


The e-edition replicates the look and feel of the print edition online:


When you click through on the email offer, you discover it’s a subscription solicitation:


It costs just just under $2 per week. That compares with $7.75 per week for conventional print home delivery.

Here are a couple of reactions:

  • Rather than asking me to immediately pay (as the prompt does), I should be allowed to try it for some trial period.
  • As far as I can tell there’s no “value add” beyond the look and feel concept. (Admittedly I haven’t used it so I can’t comment on the UX.) But my view is that there needs to be something extra to entice me.

I want to support the newspapers but my immediate reaction to this was resistance. The question is: will there be a “coercive element” when newspapers start asking users to pay? In other words, will they be putting content back behind the firewall and saying “if you want access to that again, you need to pay.” As sympathetic as I am, my own “visceral reaction” suggests there’s an enormous challenge for the industry in trying to ask people to pay for content they’ve become accustomed to receiving for free.

If all the newspapers were to do something like this simultaneously it might be more effective, but then you’d have anti-trust issues. There’s no easy solution here.

Regarding the SF Chronicle and their new e-edition: let me try it free, get “hooked” and then ask me to pay. Also, there needs to be additional content or features that aren’t currently available to make it worth subscribing to. It’s just going to be very difficult to get people to pay otherwise — and even then it will be tough.


Related: The Obama Admin. says there should be no anti-trust exemption for newspapers.


4 Responses to “Newspapers: Pay Models Coming”

  1. Joe Mescher Says:

    That’s right – – it’s all about ‘The Comeback’ (getting hooked, then paying for service).

    Pay models aren’t a surprise given the falling revenues and profits, but what I wonder is: Won’t some renegade publisher keep all their content free just to build links and increase ad revenues (from higher impressions)?

    Sort of ruins the game for everyone.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Agree. As long as some news content is free it will create a problem for others — the “prisoner’s dilemma” (sort of).

  3. Mihmorandum | The *Apparent* Death of Journalism | For Fun Says:

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