Some local newspapers should rethink their online income strategy
The newspaper industry is undergoing a huge metamorphosis because of the Internet and technology. As print subscriber numbers go down and advertiser dollars shrink, the online edition of the traditional newspaper is being built, shaped and refined daily. Strategies abound on how newspapers can make money in this new environment. This post is one perspective on the strategy of requiring online visitors to the newspaper Web site to become print subscribers before being allowed to view an article. My perspective is that of someone in the economic/community development business.
In my role as an economic/community developer and a business columnist I often tweet and blog about articles related to that subject. I also publish a regular e-newsletter to just under 1,000 people who would be classified as community leaders. I generally link to more positive newspaper stories than negative ones, especially when it comes to announcing new businesses. Doing so, spotlights that business as well as the newspaper and the community. A few newspapers now are requiring print or paid online subscriptions to view the entire article that was linked to. Some require a name and e-mail address only. I think that is a mistake or at least three reasons. First, people like me are not going to mention the community or provide the link to their subscribers and e-mail recipients. That causes a missed promotional opportunity for the community, the newspaper and the business. Second, it just plain makes the newspaper look bad, especially when almost all other online editions are free. And when the local newspaper looks bad the community looks bad. The newspaper – and its online edition – is a reflection of the community. Third, the newspaper is missing an income opportunity in the belief that it is creating an income opportunity. Ads can be placed on the sidebar beside the newspaper article, allowing the newspaper to receive income from click-throughs, while at the same time charging local advertisers for space on the Web site.
Allow me to give you a specific example. I went to a local newspaper’s Web site and discovered that a local company had been named to a national magazine’s list of best companies. I clicked on the link only to be informed that the article could only be viewed by print or online subscribers to the newspaper. Having no desire to pay $6.00 for a 30-day subscription, I did not read the story. I did an online news search for the company, found the news article in the national magazine, and then made my links to that of the national magazine. The result is that my readers did not go to the local newspaper’s Web site to read the article, which, in my opinion, was a missed opportunity for the local newspaper.
Each local newspaper must evaluate the pros and cons of so-called free online editions. I realize that there is really no such thing as a free online edition of anything. Somebody pays. Nevertheless, the evaluation to be made is whether there is more income from display ads on the Web site or paid online subscriptions. My guess is that unlike national newspapers, industry newspapers and magazines and specialized publications there will be little demand for paid subscriptions to online local newspapers. It is, of course, different for every newspaper, but local newspaper need not look for links from this writer to a Web site that requires a paid subscription to be viewed.