Friday, November 2, 2012

Newspaper Pay Walls

With the recent conversion of the Globe & Mail from advertising based to subscription based and the Toronto Star about to go this way also, it’s time again to revisit newspapers. When I looked at this issue in June (Newspapers Again) , I said I have mixed feelings about pay walls and I’m not entirely convinced that they are the answer or at least not in the way that newspapers seem to think they are.

I find it a bit ironic that newspapers are having so many problems with the Internet when they were among the first to jump on it. It reminds me of Kodak inventing the digital camera and yet going bankrupt because of digital cameras.

The biggest problem that I’ve seen is newspapers seem to forget that the Internet is layered. Papers have struggled with this for years and they still don’t entirely have the hang of it. For example, how many poorly done videos have I seen on newspaper sites? They have gotten better, but need more refinement. And I’m still seeing too many flat stories, that is stories with no deeper connections. For example an article in the Portland Press Herald Ceremonial ride to mark Downeaster's Maine expansion on the expansion of rail service fails to include a link to the new schedule. The Toronto Star also often fails to include links, for example a story on a new high-tech card for the Detroit – Windsor tunnel High-Tech card will speed travel through Windsor to Detroit toll boths didn’t include a link for further information.

This raises the question that if layering can be done for information why not for pay walls? Online medical journals do this. If I want to take a look at a particular study I have two choices: read the abstract for free or read the entire study for the price of a subscription. Why can’t the newspaper industry follow these examples?

Why does it have it to be an all or nothing deal for them? Why can’t they post a synopsis of one to three paragraphs, depending on the story, for free viewing and if you want to read the full, in depth article, then you’d have to subscribe? For an investigative piece(s) like the Toronto Star’s recent series on Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario Marineland animals suffering former staffers say a newspaper could post a longer shortened version online for free. If you then wanted to read more you get a subscription. They can always post full articles free for anyone to read, like for election night or for storm reports.

And while a pay wall does provide additional income, it also drives away readers. People can go to a t.v. website and get news for free. You can go to the Business News Network and view and read business stories, like the Globe & Mail covers, for free. It seems to me the last thing newspapers need is to further drive away readership.

Finally why can’t I go to one place and get a subscription to a number of newspapers instead of having to individually subscribe to each newspaper I want. There are about five newspapers I would be willing to subscribe to if the price was right and it was convenient for me to do so, as in being a one stop, one payment, place.

I’ll talk about Newsweek’s decision to go digital in a future post.