The News & Observer has announced that it is instituting a paywall on Dec. 19. It’s no surprise; expect the Charlotte Observer to do the same. (Here’s why.)
The N&O — as with other McClatchy papers — is bundling a price increase for subscribers, too. “The cost of renewing a subscription will include the digital package, and will amount to an increase of $2.46 every four weeks or $32 a year.”
For people interested in state government, this will be a blow, particularly for those of us who can’t get home delivery of the paper. We can subscribe to the digital edition for $69.95 annually, which seems a bargain. Still, I’ll be surprised if they don’t lose a lot of traffic. (I also expect this to be a boon to the N&O primarily competitor, WRAL.)
As soon as Charlotte establishes its paywall, visitors to the websites of the three largest papers in the state will have limited access to the papers’ journalism. Greensboro doesn’t have a paywall, but it doesn’t provide links to all of its content. Case in point, this wonderful story
by Susan Ladd sends visitors to the subscription-based e-edition.
I’m not opposed to paywalls. I know better than most that good journalism costs money and must be supported with money. But paywalls have always seemed short-sighted to me. The newspaper industry has trained people that content is available online. I know. I was part of it and an advocate for posting everything online. And why not? I’m a journalist. I want journalism to be spread far and wide.
Now, of course, it is going to be difficult — impossible, I think — to train people to pay for it. It’s possible, if the papers add the bonus of relevant, unique content behind the paywall. That’s not mentioned in the N&O’s announcement. And if it’s not there, then subscribers are simply now paying for something they have gotten for free for years. It will be a hard sell.
I expect that papers will get a short-term revenue pop. They’re bundling it with the newsprint subscription AND they’ll get some new online only subscribers. But it won’t last that long. But after that, the people who will pay are not coming along. I’ve now asked three different classes of college students whether they would ever pay for news content. Very few say they will. And they aren’t now, unless required to by a professor. (Likely a cost borne by parents.)
I love newspapers and their journalism and pray for their success. I hope that while the paywalls are in effect, that corporate leaders are figuring out the longer-term strategy for financial survival. A generation is coming up — one is actually already here — that is not going to pay $70 a year for content that is likely free a few clicks away.
: Mashable looks at the paywall trend with an insightful post.
“As you’ll see in the infographic (presented by bestcollegesonline.org), some papers lost large percentages when switching over to paywalls — upwards of a third of their website traffic. Counterintuitively, others did much better. And, some sites have failed miserably when attempting to charge for their content.”
(Thanks to Dioni Wise for the pointer.)