Newspapers floundering on digital paywalls
The newspaper industry is flailing about, desperately trying to replace the revenue which disappeared with the arrival of the internet, giving every appearance of being in its death throes. In the latest example of pre-demise convulsions, the San Francisco Chronicle has quietly dropped its paywall, instituted but four months earlier. Andrew Beaujon of Poynter.org writes:
Following a number of reports speculating about the end of the paper's subscription plan, the Chronicle's new publisher and president released a statement that seemed to suggest the company is trying to modify its paywall without giving it up altogether: while all of the paper's news will be appearing at both the SFGate and SFChronicle sites, the two executives hinted that they will be trying to add enough value to the latter to keep people paying for it. According to the statement:
"SFGate will continue to provide readers with a broad spectrum of content as well as all Chronicle reports and columns. The SFChronicle.com site will continue to provide readers with an online version that replicates a newspaper experience and reflects the changes in the news throughout the day. We will continue to increase the unique assets that distinguish SFChronicle.com, including design features, utility and unique offerings to subscribers."
Good luck, guys! My gut tells me that people aren't going to lay out cash money just to have stuff better organized or updated regularly. The news you see in the Chron is somewhat generic, available elsewhere in the Bay Area media. Because the tech industry is headquartered around here, local eyeballs spend more time on the net than anywhere else, so there are plenty of local digital news sources. Newspapers are so nineteenth century.
Hearst Corporation paid over a billion dollars for the Chron just before the newspaper industry started to collapse, and they are having a tough time of it surviving. They just sent in a new management:
The Chronicle's publisher, former Los Angeles Times publisher Jeffrey Johnson, and president Joanne Bradford - a former Demand Media executive - were hired by the newspaper's owner, Hearst Corp., in May with a mandate to revitalize the faded paper, which no doubt explains the somewhat sudden change of heart on the paywall.
Pinch Sulzbereger and his management team can't be happy to see this happen. The New York Times is betting that enough of its fans will be willing to pay for full access online. The Times has become the house organ of the blue staters no matter where they live, serving a psychological function of validating their worldview and plugging them into a progressive party line. They have a better chance of convincing people to pay for full access. The Wall Street Journal occupies a unique niche with business news (and tax deductible subscription fees). But your average large metropolitan daily has lesser prospect. At the bottom of the Poynter piece we see:
Update: According to a report at Dallas-based D magazine, the Dallas Morning News is also planning to take down the paywall around its regular news site andlaunch a separate "premium content" site.