Yet Another Paywall Experiment Fails

from the doomed-to-repeat-mistakes dept

As we’ve seen time and time again, generally, when newspapers put up a paywall around their content, things do not turn out well. Yet, newspapers continue to put them up. While we applaud the spirit of experimentation, if they simply keep repeating the same experiment over and over again, with the same results, they’re apparently not learning anything. So, it’s not really surprising to see that yet another paywall experiment has ended badly. This time The Valley Morning Star, a small paper in Harlingen, Texas, decided in mid-2009 to implement a paywall. The paper, which has a circulation of about 23,000, was chosen as a test case for Freedom Communications’ stable of newspapers.

The paywall, which launched the week of July 15th, cost $3.95 a month, 75 cents per day, or was included if you had a subscription to the print version of the newspaper. The rationale was that since online readers were not paying a subscription fee, somehow the value to the print subscribers decreased:

“It will allow greater value to our many loyal print-edition subscribers by not giving away the news to non-subscribers,” Patton said. “The days of giving content away, which costs money to create and for which we charge our print subscribers, I think, are just over.”

As we’ve discussed here before, this is a flawed argument. The subscription price of a printed newspaper barely covers the costs of printing and distribution, not the production of the content, which is generally funded with ad revenue.

In any case, after 8 months, the The Valley Morning Star took the paywall down, proudly proclaiming they “will be moving back to a completely FREE Web site.” By now, so many of these paywall experiments have failed that you have to wonder when the industry will finally heed the lessons they teach.

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Companies: freedom communications, valley morning star

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Comments on “Yet Another Paywall Experiment Fails”

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32 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

NO ITS NOT!!!

The film and music industries have paywalls around their content, and that leads to rampant piracy. However, since their content is relatively “long-life” they still manage to survive and even do quite well. Not so for news outlets, where their content is stale within a week. If they force their customers to turn to pirate news outlets, they may be doomed.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m calling it right now. Their will be an expansion of copyright, and the DMCA to include “hot news”.

The people that have traditionally controlled the flow of information are determined to do so in this, new age of peer broadcasting.

Their are lobbyists on capitol hill right now hammering out agreements, to push some yet unknown protection on their news. The argument goes: “It’s no different than hearing a song, having a cover band play it and then selling it right along side of the artist that struggled to create it.”. This is a fight that’s been brewing for some time, but you can bet, it’s going to come out of nowhere and get pushed through really quickly. As usual it will be embedded in some sham legislation called “Protect Children from Sexual Predators” or something else the crooked senators wouldn’t be caught dead voting against… They know it’s coming, these guys, the ones that are putting up pay walls they’re just not big enough to know whats in the pipeline.

Q2 – 2011

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

no it will work when it is the norm, and when there isnt so much free stuff out there supported by other business models. right now websites are often just dumps of content paid elsewhere. when they become the only focus when print disappears then people will look at protecting their content more. then the subscription model is more appropriate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

So does that mean when I read a story about Joe Schmoe jumping off a bridge to kill himself on website B for free I’m stealing that information from website A and keeping it to myself so no else can have it? I mean, if website A who “owns” that story wants it back I guess I can give it back to them. get a clue before you post moron.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

no you arent stealing anything. what a dense argument. if website b copied it from website a without persmission, then they stole it and you are just profiting from the theft. wegbsite a doesnt own the facts they own their writing of the facts. website b can write their own story. your argument is a fail, making you the moron.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“it will work when it is the norm, and when there isnt so much free stuff out there supported by other business models.”

I spotted a really large gaping hole in your argument. Its Called Reality, perhaps you have heard of it. Currently the number of new blogs is growing at the same percentage year after year (previous I mistakenly said exponentially). A sizable chunk of them are news blogs. People are consuming news differently now than they were 10 years ago, they are choosing the news based on topics they have an interest in and from different sources. This trend is accelerating as more and more people go online and communicate with one another.

“when they become the only focus when print disappears then people will look at protecting their content more. then the subscription model is more appropriate.”

Here is a word you might like to look up “Rationalization”

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The biggest news site in The Netherlands is arguably http://www.nu.nl which is a free (as in beer) news site. They don’t have a print circulation but they have their own redactional staff now, all because of ad revenue.

Now what would happen if one of the large Dutch print newspapers were to put a paywall around their website. More people would flock to the free ones, causing them to have bigger ad-revenues because of more ad-views, so more money to do fun stuff with and expand their empire. Meanwhile the big print newspaper is doomed to failure, as they don’t have the page views and the ad views, and arguably even less pageviews than before the paywall.

It’s a simple matter of knowing human behaviour.

You can’t get ALL online news outlets to go behind a paywall. There will always be at least 1 rogue outlet that would refuse to put up a paywall.

Veritas says:

I take the 4th, for fools

Is this the same group that lead the cheer for the Iraq war?
Is this the same group that didn’t see ANY of the financial melt down?
What kind of reporting are we really talking about?

Calling these people “professional” reporters is offensive to America. They can’t get the real stories that are affecting our country, so they latch on to the “current events” and claim they have “something to offer”.

Shame on US for listen to these charlatans.

Bradley Stewart (profile) says:

Everyone Is Just

getting tired of fees for everything. Before the ongoing scandalous treatment of banks and other financial institutions of their customers become so well known there was a comedy bit about a fellow calling his bank for some information. The customer service rep. on the line asked is that a question or a statement? The fellow asked why? The rep. said because if its a statement there is no charge, but if its a question that will be two dollars. Sure the people who work for these papers need to be paid just like anyone else who works. Its just that every time I seem to turn around someone wants to charge me for something. Just one last example. If I choose to pay my electric bill over the phone to a computer mind you just for the privilege of paying my bill I am charged an extra $3.50. Oh Brother!

Improbus (profile) says:

Distributed News Syndicate

Has anyone started a web site that takes reports from the Internet and fact checks them? I am thinking that some one needs to start a site like Wikileaks or Wikipedia but for news … WikiNews. You could get paid for your article/video/photos/commentary by the number of page views. This hypothetical news bureau could charge other news organizations a fee for accessing their content. This news would be distributed and not monolithic like the MSM (main stream media) who everyone knows work for their corporate masters. The MSM can not be trusted to give the news … just propaganda.

tom davis says:

This has nothing to do with theft or IP. Its just business.
The newspapers make most of there money from ads now. Before they could get money from classifieds, but that is finished. They need to increase subscribers in order to increase advertising income. Have people sign up to view content online sure but for free. This way they can charge more for advertising. There are few papers that can get away with charging people to view online and not lose viewers. A paper would have to have something that no other paper can provide. The economist or the wall street journal come to mind.

DerekCurrie (profile) says:

Paywall FAIL, Subscription Over-pricing

The ‘Paywall’ experiment ended in failure back in the 1990s during the advent of the Worldwide Web. These retrograde attempts at paywalls are amusing testaments to ignorance. The fact is that there will always be free alternatives that will attract larger audiences simply because they are free.

Another FAIL is the attempt to over-price subscriptions to websites. Blatant user gouging has been going on such that paying for extended website access and features is prohibitive. With time there will be price corrections such that users will happily pay a reasonable fee if only to help out their favorite sites. For example, it’s great that the New York Times now provides paid electronic versions of their paper. However, the cost is remarkably high considering the lack of required paper printing and shipping fees. Once they adjust their subscription fee to a reasonable price, their subscription rate will increase.

Conclusion: Herr Rupert Murdoch, Führer of News Corp., is a 20th century Luddite. Like all other over-priced paywalls, his will FAIL.

BP says:

RE: Yet Another Paywall Experiment Fails

I don’t see this as a problem with wanting to charge. I see it as a problem in not adding value when you sell something that is free elsewhere. What the news agencies haven’t come up with yet is a way to make it worthwhile to pay for news. You see it in other Internet business models. For example, Slacker radio gives additional benefits for pay customers plus a free option for cheap people like me. I don’t know how they’re doing, but I know people willing to pay for those additional benefits.

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