Whig Web-Site Access Free During Holiday Season

The Cecil Whig has opened up the content of its web site to anyone surfing over to the paper’s virtual Internet home until Jan 1. Just login as “holiday” and use “santa” as the password.

A few years ago, the county daily decided to charge to access its digital content.  The day the publisher announced the change the New York Times made its extensive content free.  The nation’s leading paper had struggled with developing a paid site, but after experimenting with that business model for several years the major daily decided the best way to leverage the technology was to have free content.   By having really large numbers of virtual visitors reading web pages, the papers creates value for advertisers on the web, just as it does in its print edition.  

In the 21st century, the nature of print media has changed rapidly and the trend is acclerating.  In order to maintain economic viability publishers must decide how they’re going to manage these changes and leverage the opportunities provided by the World Wide Web.  There is such a wide universe of information instantly available today and the speed this information moves is dictating the changes the publisher must manage.  When a major news event occurs in Cecil County, it is often old news by the time a print product arrives at the subscriber’s doorstep.

Most papers have found that paid sites do not work.  What the New York Times said was that millions upon millions of readers coming to its site were not willing to pay for the content behind the firewall.  Management saw these extremely large numbers as an opportunity for more page views and increased advertising revenue.  Under the paid strategy it was generating over 13-million hits a month but the company didn’t state what it anticipated once the site was opened up to all readers.  Colby Atwood, a media researcher was quoted in that piece as saying:  ” . . . there have always been reasons to question the pay model for news sites, and that doubts have grown along with Web traffic and online ad revenue.  The business model for advertising revenue versus subscriber revenue is so much more attractive.  The hybride model has some potential, but in the long run, the advertising one will dominate.”

Newspapers have strengths if owners leverage the opportunities.  For example, even in small markets legacy media is the source of most news gathering.  No one else in a market is staffed and organized to gather and deliver content, even in these times.  It really is a question of the amount and quality of the coverage, as well as how they are going to deliver it, John Morton of Mortn Research said in an article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer:  “The question is how newspapers are going to deliver it [news] . . .  The worry is that by cutting back on staff, on space, and on their services to readers, this is affecting the standing of papers and damaging their brand.  They could be eroding the things that must stay strong if they are to succeed in competition with Internet news sources, when the effects of the economic tsunami have passed.   

A piece called “How to Save the Newspaper Industry” by journalism professor Joel Brinkley in the San Fransisco Chronicle summed it up this way:  “In 2003 and 2004, publishers began to realize that the Web was taking over the business. In fact, readers and advertisers were abandoning the printed newspaper and reading it online – for free. In the years since, this trend has worsened. Industry experts say they expect several newspapers to go out of business next year.  . . . When the sites were regarded as technology curiosities, there was no thought of charging people to use them. By the time papers realized that they should be charging, it was too late. No one wanted to be the first paper to charge, given that nearly all of the other papers, and other online news sources worldwide, were free. Several papers tried charging, but most backed off.”

While we were surfing around catching the news this morning, we noticed a piece over on the blog Reflections of a Newsosaur, reporting that the net, for the first time, the net now beats papers as the top news source.  It really is all about content since that’s what readers still want and there will be a market for the business that delivers content.

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2 responses to “Whig Web-Site Access Free During Holiday Season

  1. Delegate Mike Smigiel

    Does your research show why some papers have been reluctant to embrace the new technology?
    Is a part of this reluctance tied to the generational gap in the decision making process?

    Those choosing to read on line being x and y generations while those choosing whether to post their printed product are more likely to be baby boomers? Once the torch gets passed to the younger editors or more techno-savy will new and innovative methods of communicating arise? I guess we just have to wait and see.

  2. Delegate Smigiel:

    I’m always amazed at how slow established, well branded, successful publishing enterprise are at reacting to marketplace changes. With just a few exceptions, the owners and publishers in this industry generally don’t get it. Legacy media products were extremely successful for the longest time, generating enormous profits, many ranging in the 30% category for the longest time. (What a return on your investment.)
    But that was before the “perfect storm” of real competition, wide availability of broadband Internet connections, and a sharp decline in advertising revenue. Now that the fiscal and technological barriers for widely sharing information have been removed, things are bound to change, especially as newspapers cut back on content. While part of it might be generational, some great part of it is the lack of vision, the ability to see the opportunities and leverage your extant strengths. The industry isn’t managing for the future and because of acquisitions it has large debt loads. They can’t stop the demographic and technological changes that are taking place, so they have to figure out how to leverage the strong brands they have, if they are going to remain viable.
    As we’ve said before journalism is important and somehow we will have news. We have too for our system of governance to work well. Well I read my local daily I need to know what my local leadership is doing, and it can’t worry about being too friendly to the leadership. It just needs to get at the truth and report it, but that requires some digging.
    Perhaps newspapers will get it before it’s too late, or we’ll just have virtual products. This convergence of media isn’t something anyone can stop. Now a writer, in addition to be a journalist, is a photographer, videographer, and recording technician all wrapped in one, in the places that are adapting. If I had a newspaper that had 11,000 or more paid subscribers, I’d use the print edition to push readers to my free web site for all the content that wouldn’t fit into print. There I’d have lots of additional local images, deeper pieces for those desiring greater insight, and it would be full of local video and sound. In short, I would make it Cecil County’s news portal. Think of the value such a free site will have in the not too distant future, if someone started building it now, leveraging the strengths they have. Then as the hits kept coming and I became the dominant site everyone in Cecil County was clicking on, I could charge accordingly for the advertising views.
    I’ve always enjoyed my Cecil Whig and recall a time not so long ago when I couldn’t wait to pick it up so I could sit and read it carefully. It was full of local content, had deeper pieces, and wasn’t worried, too much, about being too friendly to the politicians for they would ask some challenging follow-up questions. They’d sense a good story and go after it. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when newspapers across the nation had a reputation for doing investigative report, the Whig came out with some great pieces too. The Whig has some old-time editors and writers whom know about real journalism and are capable of producing the content that sells newspapers. If I were the publishers, I’d let them go after it. There is a need in the market.
    Here’s what one industry analyst said: “newspaper industry is desperately trying to migrate its business online before fleeing print advertisers consign it to history.” It is important that we have in this county a very strong newspaper to serve the community. But that means that publishers have to make the resources and the internal support available for getting out and digging up the better content.
    That’s what I say about it. It’s really simple, the business model for the 21st century new media. It’ll work once owners and publishers figure it out.

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