Is the news that even the Wall St. Journal will be dropping its walled garden approach to its news in the hopes of generating more revenue via advertising the final death knell to the paid subscription model for newspapers online? Don’t tell The Globe and Mail that. Their confusing array of subscription models seems specifically designed to frustrate and trip up readers. But for most of the English-speaking newspaper world, the walls have tumbled, or are crumbling rapidly. The Washigton Post (which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing it’s free web site) has a useful piece on the shift. Although I have to say that I agree with ex-Washingtonpost.com editor Craig Stoltz (who blogs at Web 2. Oh?) when he pointed to this comment in the story from the Economist’s publisher:
"Part of my job as publisher is to create the very best possible
experience for people so they can advance into a deeper relationship
with us," Edwards said. "Eventually, they can transfer over to be a
Transfer over to be a print subscriber? Hello? Did cheaper cars encourage people to switch back to horses? Stoltz entitled his post "Unpaid Content and Delusions of a Print Renaissance" and I think that about sums it up. The unanswered question, however, is this: what about local news? Does the wide and deep availability of massive amounts of non-local web news, information and entertainment mean that readers won’t pay for local news? In that same WP story carries this quote from a man who’s devoted the last three years to thinking and researching paid content on the web:
"Subscriptions thrive in an area where there’s scarcity — content that
people can’t get anywhere else," said Rafat Ali, publisher of PaidContent.org. "Other than that, you need an advertising-based model."
If almost no one else is offering local news on the web, doesn’t that make it scarce? Doesn’t that suggest a future for the paid subscription model? I think not. Alas – for I really, really worry about the future of local journalism as newspapers the great money machine that funded it, dies its slow death. I think that blogs, social network sites, increasingly robust web communication from community institutions, etc mean that local newspapers don’t have a lock on local news and are in real competition for people’s attention. And that means that at the local level – like virtually everywhere else on the web, the audience is in control. Goodbye paid news.