The newspaper paywall debate continues, apparently unabated. (I’m in Steve Buttry’s, Mathew Ingram’s and Howard Owens’ camp, by the way.) Now, as more papers are considering erecting paywalls — including in N.C. — I will add one more thought to the discussion.
If you are going to start charging me for something that was previously free, you’d better start adding some serious value. By that I mean more content, faster downloads, intuitive navigation, precise search, easy-access commenting, no pop-up ads or pop-unders or pop-anywheres, quick response to questions and complaints, and more content. Oh, did I say that already? I should have said unique content. After all, TV will make the morning newspaper report commodity news as soon as the paper hits the street.
I appreciate the need to assign a monetary value to your journalism. It’s hard, important and worthy work. It’s valuable. When the website is open and free, you get what you pay for. But once a fee is charged, I expect more. So, if the paywall is erected and there’s not much change to the site behind the wall? I’m going to feel taken advantage of. Gypped even. Bad idea making a customer feel he’s been duped, particularly when people are already having trust issues with the industry.
But a vibrant site filled with vital stories and photos and video that I can’t get anywhere else? Where I can talk with people at the paper in real time? (And not just the journalists — after all, advertising is half the paper, so why isn’t someone in advertising online? Marketing? Circulation?) You get the idea. Add value and we can talk.
Thursday update: Steve Buttry in the comments: “The mindset of most people operating paywalls is that they deserve to be paid for what they are doing. But the marketplace sets value. If you’re charging in a marketplace where free is the prevailing value, you’d better have outstanding content (tough to do when you just bought out a bunch of your best journalists).”