A Fight For Survival: Newspaper Edition

I’ve recently read several articles concerning a trend in the digital newspaper arena and it reminded me of the days when I worked for Cox Enterprises, a large multimedia ownership company.

There was a time when the newspaper division was the darling of that company. They provided huge, dependable cash flow that propped up the rest of the organization at times. Then along came the Internet and newspapers began publishing content on the web, for which they previously charged a subscription, for free in a purely ad-supported digital format. You know the rest of the story –  the Internet cannibalized the subscription-based newspaper business and if they haven’t already gone under they are hurting.

Now newspapers are searching for ways to replace the revenue that is being lost due to waning paper subscriptions. The trend these articles referenced is for newspapers to place a portion of their digital content behind a metered or “pay wall”. According to one article, about 20% of newspapers are adopting this model and two of the articles cite the success of The New York Times as the primary influence.

This trend raises a multitude of questions:

  • What exactly is the appetite for this “premium” content?
  • What is the perception of this model to the reader?

Newspapers have provided their digital content for free for years. Is the simple promise of not having to wade through a few pop-up ads or watch a 30-second pre-roll ad before getting to watch the video you really want to see enough to incentivize readers to pay more for the content? Does the content behind this “pay wall” need to be unique or exclusive? How does this change make the reader feel about your brand?

Of all the articles I read on the subject, the one that made the most sense to me is this one:

What a concept – “getting to know your readers and their interests better can also help a newspaper or any other media entity target advertising better”. This is something we evangelize here at User Insight daily. It’s not possible to create a great user experience without having a deep and nuanced knowledge of your users.

The article goes on to conclude “The sooner newspapers start to think about their users as partners with whom they have a mutually beneficial relationship — rather than as an undifferentiated mass of wallets who hit the paywall at some random moment and then get out their credit cards — the better off they will be.”

I couldn’t have said it better!