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.