OTC: Columbia Trib To Charge Web Readers


“We came to the realization free online access is hurting us.”
Andy Waters, Columbia Tribune’s VP of interactive media, on the Tribune’s announcement to begin charging for unlimited online access on December 1st, ColumbiaTribune.com
GH: The Tribune will charge online-only customers $8/month or $96/year for each account. Online readers will be allowed to read 10 stories a month online at no charge. It is the Wild West in the newspaper biz right now. Do you die with your printing presses on or go down charging for online content? Read on.
“This is a business decision for us, a way to come up with a sustainable business model so we can keep doing high-quality journalism. It’s much more of a balanced approach to our operation.”
Andy Waters, Columbia Tribune
GH: Every newspaper is and has been grappling with how to charge for their online content. I read at least 50 of the comments left by Trib readers and not one of them supported this move. It is a conundrum. Newspapers cannot continue to provide online content for free and readers are offended when asked to pay for what they consider should be free.
“Because casual readers will continue to have free access to 10 local stories monthly and non-local content, Waters isn’t worried about hurting the web traffic that supports online advertising. He’s also not concerned about readers turning to other media outlets. After all, he said, thousands already are paying for the Tribune in print.”
Janese Silvey, writer, Columbia Tribune
GH: Waters is either poorly informed or trying to lie with a straight face. Charging for content is a killer to web traffic for any news site. The Trib reports 20,000 subscribers to their print edition. Those numbers — like every other newspaper — are dropping daily.
“One of the most significant changes online readers will notice is the ability to comment. Those not paying for content will be able to read comments but not participate.”
Janese Silvey, writer, Columbia Tribune
“A lively comment section might be enough to get readers on board, Shirky said, noting that people are willing to pay for conversation in other online communities.”
Janese Silvey, writer, Columbia Tribune
GH: The Comment sections of newspapers and blogs have become a huge reason for readers to visit a site 5 or 10 times a day. This kind of web traffic is attractive to advertisers. The crippled Comments section on the revamped KCC website continues to frustrate writers and readers alike. People like to comment anonymously and they like to do it with as little hassle as possible. I’m not sure they enjoy it enough though to pay for the privilege as Silvey suggests.
“(The Tribune’s) model strikes me as an audience segmentation model: ‘We don’t want to deflect the casual user, but the people who get value out of us being a whole publication rather than a bag of URLs is maybe willing to support us.’ ”
Clay Shirky, a Columbia native who now writes about technology in New York, Columbia Tribune
GH: The very casual reader will still surf the Trib’s pay site but be gone as soon as they discover it costs to play. There aren’t enough readers (at this time) who value online content enough to pay. Someone needs to come up with an advertising model that pays for online content. No newspaper of note relies on subscriptions to pay the bills.
“If you go to a bar, you overpay for Pabst Blue Ribbon. And the reason you’re willing to overpay is it’s more fun to drink in a bar than to drink at home.”
Clay Shirky, Columbia Tribune
GH: After reading Shirkey’s comment above, I am seriously wondering why he was contacted to offer his “expert” opinion. Have another PBR, Shirk.
“That’ll free up a lot of my time. I will actually appreciate them breaking me of this habit.”
Hackman, in Reader Comments section of the Tribune article
GregHall24@yahoo.com and Twitter / greghall24
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8 Responses to OTC: Columbia Trib To Charge Web Readers

  1. Hugh Jass says:

    What’s this got to do with sports? You should probably stick to sports, because you really don’t have a clue what’s going on in a newspaper office anymore, just agreeing like a bobbing head doll with clueless windbags like Clay Shirky, who hasn’t had an original thought in his whole damn life.

  2. Doog says:

    Hey Hugh,

    This actually is relevant. A media critic that I’ve read consistently, and is typically spot-on with what’s unfolded in print, broadcast and online, has talked a lot about this trend. And it’s one that I’m in agreement with him.
    The golden era of the ‘free’ internet is over.
    Sure, KCC will remain free, at least I hope so (and yes, I do click-through on the ads), but I can see a day where the Star will charge for unlimited online access.
    But for the Columbia paper to charge $8 a month? That’s too much. The media expert I mentioned above charges $100 a year for access to his blog….I’m not paying that much. I could see a day where the Star could charge $3 to $5 a month for unlimited online access…if that happened, I’d probably sign up for it, because I don’t live in an area where the Star is physically delivered. But at $8 like Columbia? Screw that.
    Only papers that generate a lot of content daily can try to attempt a paid online model….it will be incredibly interesting to see how it unfolds. If the paid model results in a massive reduction in total page visits, there might be a lot of online advertisers that get incredibly pissed. Again, as I said, it will be fascinating to witness. ****Trying to see if HTML code works on the comments. I hate the new goddamned format in the comments section.

  3. Greg says:

    How newspapers can make money online
    Someone, someday will come up with an easy solution to this dilemma. It is unrealistic to think professional reporting and content can remain free while paid pulp subscriptions wither. Here is a thought

  4. TonyIsADirtbag says:

    Hey, Greg:
    Can you say "conflict of interest"? How many "fluff pieces" about Starbucks would the Star then produce?

  5. Jip says:

    Tough Topic
    I don’t think there’s any doubt that something has to be done. Newspapers are bleeding to death, and something has to be tried. I don’t think giving away their product for free on the Internet is a good idea.

    This basically is a math formula. The Daily Trib’s page views will definitely drop, there’s no question about it. The question is, will it drop low enough that the amount of money made in online advertising + subscriptions is less than what it made in online advertising as a free site?

    I think it’s worth a shot. It beats the alternative, which is to just quietly die.

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