Beyond The Paywall: Paying For Local Journalism

Newspaper Paywalls

  • 300 newspapers now have some form of paywall in place online
  • That’s double from last year
Photo of Newspaper Stands (c)

Old School Paywalls – Photo courtesy

THOUGHT: The New York Times just raised the drawbridge to the paywall that they had lowered briefly to provide access to information in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The act of public service got me thinking again about the newspaper industry’s transformation and The Grey Lady’s role in that transformation.

The Times erected it’s metered paywall model in March 2011 and many other newspapers around the country followed suit with varying degrees of success thus far. While the Times has enjoyed success with its paywall implementation, I’m skeptical that success is an appropriate model for your typical local newspaper to follow.

The New York Times, after all, is the national paper of record.

Many businesses large and small will pay for print delivery to ensure their employees know what’s going on in the world so they can make smart, informed decisions. And the price point of $15 to $35 a month is not too steep for individuals who feel compelled to stay on top of current events.

The New York Times has the critical mass to make their subscription model work.

That’s not so for your local newspaper.

The problem for local newspapers is they are not the single source of information about a community. Local newspapers’ actual and potential subscribers also have television news, radio, citizen journalism news outlets, blogs, and social media from which to learn about their communities.

A lot of people don’t even read many articles anymore; they scan headlines.

They may be getting what they need to know about their community by reading the headlines from their newspapers’ daily email update or Facebook page or Twitter feed without ever clicking on those headlines and actually encountering the paywall.

I just don’t see paid content as the model that will work to support local journalism.

You’re starting to see newspapers get more creative about how they generate revenue. My local newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has begun offering online marketing services under the name Star Tribune Radius. I’ll be watching with fascination to see whether or not it succeeds.

It’s a an interesting idea for a whole host of reasons. First, online marketing does not typically come to mind as a core competence of newspaper so that’s an initial obstacle they may need to overcome.

The potential, however, is enormous because of the treasure trove of data newspapers are sitting on. I doubt many of them realize this but there’s potential gold in the insights their online analytics could provide them and their clients. Think about it, they have the infrastructure in place to understand what kind of content appeals to what types of audiences. They have the foundation to understand how people behave online in reaction to certain types of news. They own a platform that allows them to test how various formats garner the most reach, the most opens and click-throughs, the most retweets and likes and shares and comments.

If I were them, I’d be figuring out how to couple all that behavioral data with the rich demographic and psychographic profiles that a social network like Facebook collects, and hooking that into my marketing services.

Then you’ve got some advertising that works. And right now, they’ve got advertising that doesn’t work…and precious little of it.

SUPER COOL TOOL: The Twitter Political Engagement Map illustrates tweets by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney organized by engagement on Twitter and by state.

Give Thanks By Giving Back

I am conducting a marketing experiment and I want your help.

I have been doing event marketing for Neighbors, Inc., a nonprofit in South St. Paul that, among other things, runs a food shelf. Like many nonprofits, they participate in events as a fundraising tool, one of which is an annual Walk To End Hunger. This events is like many fundraising walks or runs in that participants solicit sponsors to raise funds on behalf of the nonprofit in question.

I am going to do the Walk To End Hunger this year and I want you to sponsor me because I think nonprofit fundraising is a bit broken and I want to try a different approach. I  am going to document my marketing efforts for this project and compile the insights I gained and the lessons I learned into a report, which you will receive if you sponsor my walk to the tune of at least $25 (but hopefully more). If you’ve found any of the content I’ve published since 1995, please take this opportunity to pay me back a little.

All you need to do is click here to visit my Walk To End Hunger Page and sponsor me. Here’s my video pitch:

TOMORROW: Beyond Social Media Radio

Join me, BL Ochman of the What’s Next blog, and Albert Maruggi of the Marketing Edge podcast tomorrow tonight at 8:30 CST for our BlogTalkRadio show, Beyond Social Media. This week’s topics: Social Democracy & Facebook Reach.


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