12 November 2011: The death of newspapers (a continuing saga)

Posted: November 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’m not exactly tapped into the latest breaking journalism news anymore, and I’m probably late to the party on this, but I’d be curious to know what my journalism friends and former colleagues have to say about this one.

The Write News recently posted a story today detailing the Baltimore Sun‘s intention to install a “paywall” by October. Essentially, the paper will now start charging for a digital subscription. “The paywall will launch with an introductory rate of 99 cents for the first four weeks,” according to the blog. “The regular rate will be $49.99 for 26 weeks for non print subscribers and $29.99 a year for print subscribers. Non subscribers will be able to access 15 pages for free each month.” PaidContent.org has more info here, and you can read the Sun memo here.

Don’t have any real stats on how well (or not) it’s working out, but I know newspapers have been struggling (and dying) at an astonishing rate in this latest information age. And most seem to be either living in denial or providing too little, too late. The beginning of the end came when newsrooms, wanting to take advantage of the Internet, decided to essentially post their papers on the Web — free delivery to the world, in other words. Seemed like a good idea, and showed the world that the industry was hip to the techno.

The problem with that, though, was obvious. Why pay for content that I can get for free? Newspapers were competing with themselves and didn’t even realize it. Some, notably the Philadelphia Inquirer, were innovative enough to drive traffic to their website with their print editions, then provide “value-added” content. For example, when Mark Bowden’s Blackhawk Down was being excerpted in the paper, you could go to the website to read all the source documents Bowden used in his research, a massive volume of content you couldn’t get in a daily newspaper. Still, it was free.

Some publications have tried online subscriptions, with less than profitable results, and some, like the Christian Science Monitor, have completely shut down their print operations and gone to digital publishing only.

I don’t think the Sun will fare well, either. It occurred to me just this morning, as I sat at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee and my Mac, that I was “reading the paper” without a paper. I get all my news online now, and I’m a die-hard newspaper reader. I even taught my kids to read the paper — and it satisfies me every time I see them sit down and read one. But I don’t have a single newspaper subscription anymore — no need and it’s an extra expense.

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Comments
  1. Rob says:

    The unfortunate trend seems to be toward “bundling” print and online subscriptions to hold the line on the print circulation rate base for advertisers, thus forcing the consumer to take a more expensive and less useful product that they don’t want (dead tree) in order to get the cheaper and more useful product that they do want (pixels). When left with a choice like that, it’s no surprise that people will pass altogether.

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