Yet Another Newspaper Paywall Goes Bust: SF Chronicle Gives Up After Just Four Months

from the not-the-panacea-you've-been-expecting dept

I know that within newspaper circles it’s become popular to claim that we’ve now entered the era of the paywall. Paywall supporters love to point to the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal — along with claims from various paywall companies that more and more newspapers are moving over to such a model. However, we’ve been hearing plenty of stories suggesting that for most every newspaper that isn’t a major national or international brand, the paywalls are looking like dismal failures. Very, very, very few (at times, shockingly few) people are signing up, and by setting up the paywall, they’re actually losing a fair number of online visitors. This isn’t a surprise. As we’ve been arguing for years, a paywall is the exact wrong strategy for most newspapers, since the real business they’re in is building a community and then selling that community’s attention. Yet, a paywall makes it much, much harder to build a community, first by putting up a tollbooth, and then making it nearly impossible for readers to share the news and bring others into that community.

So it should come as little surprise that the SF Chronicle here in San Francisco has apparently killed its paywall after just four months. The quickness with which it’s been pulled certainly suggests that the number of signups was appallingly low and someone finally did the math and realized what a colossal disaster this was going to be. For your typical metro or regional newspaper, all a paywall really does is open up a huge market for online competitors. It looks like the Chronicle found that out the hard way.

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: sf chronicle

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Yet Another Newspaper Paywall Goes Bust: SF Chronicle Gives Up After Just Four Months”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
out_of_the_blue says:

Really? The local paper has a paywall and does just fine!

The paywall is located at blue boxes and convenience store counters. Buck seventy-five a pop. — OH, you’re talking ONLINE where all the freeloaders are. Never mind.

Mike Masnick on Techdirt: “a bogus, laughable group that is spreading ideas that would do massive harm to the internet based on a near total ignorance of how things work.”

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Really? The local paper has a paywall and does just fine!

Did bob lend you his dictionary? because your definitions of words are just as false.

“OH, you’re talking ONLINE where all the freeloaders are”

Funny, my home town has 4 separate physical newspapers that cost nothing to obtain, some of which are delivered to every home, yet some have been running for decades. Does that mean everyone in that town is a freeloader?


ootb on Techdirt: “I’m a slimy, immoral liar whose insane obsession with a single individual won’t stop me from stooping to slander and libel because the site’s owner has too many morals to ban such people ;lest he also interrupt free speech”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Really? The local paper has a paywall and does just fine!

“Does that mean everyone in that town is a freeloader?”

Everyone in London must be too. All the commuters read Metro in the morning and the evening standard in the evening which are freely distributed at all rail and underground stations, a whole city of freeloaders!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Where all the freeloaders are

My favourite part is where they use a free web browser to communicate with a server running free software over a free protocol in order to open a free website, read a free story and post comments there for free… in order to whine about freeloaders and how nothing would every get made if it weren’t paid for upfront.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Really? The local paper has a paywall and does just fine!

If that ‘paywall’ is working for the newspapers, then I guess there isn’t a problem, is there?

But it’s not, because other (arguably better) sources for news and information are now available with a near zero distribution cost.

If there’s no market for a product or service, then there’s no market for it. It’s sad, but things change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh well, back to the usual troll practices for ootb. Have another report vote for your off topic efforts.

I no longer depend on MSM news reports much anymore. I’ve interest in real news, not human interest stories, not dumb crook news, not celebrity fodder, and not propaganda feeds from the government.

Since MSM no longer does real investigative reporting which tended to keep politicians honest, the lack of exposure is what in part that has led us to today’s wonderful circumstances as very few politicians actually have to face the music for their dirty deeds.

So there’s not much interest on my end of supporting any news outlet I don’t live near by paying for subscription to news I have no use for.

Easier to go on line and get not day old news but up-to-the-minute news. Not having to pay for it is just a plus. Most of the time when I see paywall, it’s easy to leave behind. That’s what they make search engines for. (please put some blinders on ootb before he sees that as Google)

DanMitchell (profile) says:

Well, you know, newspapers have to do something, and I’m not sure why everyone thinks it’s so dumb to try paywalls. They have worked in some instances, and they might yet work in some others. It doesn’t look good in general, but neither do the revenue prospects for online ads. So what would you suggest be done to ensure local and regional coverage that’s at least as good as it was about 15 years ago? A relatively (at least) healthy, robust, full-time, professional press that we need for democracy to function?

>>all a paywall really does is open up a huge market for online competitors

Well, that would be great, actually. But has it happened anywhere? There are some cities with some decent upstarts (New Orleans, San Diego, Austin, etc.). Most are nonprofits, and most are understaffed and struggling (though often doing great work). I don’t know offhand of any that have launched in reaction to a local paper erecting a paywall, but I’m happy to be enlightened.

Frankly, I think any story about this problem, or even brief post like this, has to acknowledge that financing quality, newspaper-like local news coverage is an immense challenge and that online ad revenues aren’t sufficient to the task. The lack of such an acknowledgement implies a belief that online ads are the answer, but they’re clearly not.

Todd Knarr (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Mostly the local papers would need to stop concentrating on reprinting the wire-service stories that readers can get from any of a hundred sources.

For instance, the sexual-harassment accusations allegations against San Diego’s mayor. You want to sell papers in San Diego, I’m sure there’s plenty of dirt there on both sides. Filner himself strikes me as a used-car salesman, but a significant chunk of the support on the other side comes from his political opponents. And the real dirt’s likely to turn up not from looking at lobbyists and campaign donations, but from finding out who they hang out with and what those people have to say about them. That’s the kind of stuff the local reporters would be ideal for, something the wire services can’t offer. Yet the local papers are content to reprint the same generic AP wire stories. And they wonder why nobody reads them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

With the Internet, we are no longer limited by what the local or regional news media tells us. I don’t have to rely on my local newspaper or news channel to tell me what’s going on in the Middle East or China when I can just hop onto the Internet and get news reports from people who are actually there. There aren’t any markets opening up in response to paywalls because they already exist. Companies like the NY Times and Wall Street Journal aren’t just competing with local, regional or national news sources anymore, they’re competing with sources worldwide. Setting up a paywall just closes off a potential consumer base. If I see a paywall, I don’t think to myself “Oh no, how will I ever read the news for free now”, I just move onto one of the thousands of free sources that provide the same thing at no extra cost to me.

Your last paragraph implies that these news companies are setting up paywalls just to break even, which is false. These are large profitable media enterprises whose goal is to maximize profits. That is the difference between now and then: the larger companies have no desire to actually provide quality reporting, just maximize their profits. That is where the true issue is, that you bring up in your first paragraph. A relatively healthy, robust, full-time, professional press that we need for democracy to function is one that is concerned with journalistic standards, not cutting costs and maximizing revenue for the benefit of their bottom line.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So what would you suggest be done to ensure local and regional coverage that’s at least as good as it was about 15 years ago?

In the two cities I live in, nothing. The best sources of local and regional news are three newspapers that have been operating for over 20 years. They’ve always been distributed for free.

A relatively (at least) healthy, robust, full-time, professional press that we need for democracy to function?

In general, we haven’t had a healthy, robust, trustworthy professional press for a very long time. That has nothing to do with the internet — the press started dying well before the internet was a viable source of news.

The Real Michael says:

Why put up a paywall in the first place? Are they providing the public with a product or unique service which noone else provides? The answer, of course, is no. They’re printing articles, with maybe a couple pictures and/or video embedded. Even bloggers know how to do as much.

Funny how whenever I click on a news article, I tend to skip over the article itself and go right to the comments section.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Response to: The Real Michael on Aug 15th, 2013 @ 4:31am

2 probably nice, smart, educated people, who don’t read the articles before heading to the comments section and possibly commenting or possibly reading comments of those who may also not have read the article.

That comes over as a tad disturbing.

New techdirt experiment, just put up some headlines and either have no article at all, or have the body be something unrelated like a review of a fitted kitchen and let’s see how much if any effect that has on the comments section.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Response to: The Real Michael on Aug 15th, 2013 @ 4:31am

Would be pretty hilarious for the couple of trolls who post here who have flat out admitted that they don’t read the articles before posting.

‘I don’t know why you’re on your pro-NSA rant again, the article was about parakeets.’
‘What? No it isn’t, look, it says right in the title ‘New NSA survielence plan exposed‘, it was an article on the NSA!’
‘Oh that was just because it sounded interesting, the article itself was about different breeds of parakeets and plumage colors.’

Watching Stupid says:

In my neck of the woods Rupert ‘The Jackass’ Murdoch and his minions have decided to put the free delivered community paper which ends up in the gutter more than in the homes of readers, behind a paywall. The decision to put it with the regional paper & some Fox Sports and then charge for it is pure Murdoch DNA (bundling stuff you want with stuff you don’t). As there is no other local metro or state newspapers to keep them in check, Murdoch does what he likes and a big FU to the complainers. Heck they even had the cheek to say in full page ads that this is what we were asking for, WTF!
Now it’s not a total paywall, in that you can read 2 articles before being asked to pay for more views, however shutting the browser and using the antivirus etc program to clean the PC of all history allows you to go back for 2 more stories. Otherwise there wouldn’t be anyone bothering to go to the site at all.
Not that there is much in the way of meaningful exclusive content to view anyway, so I get most of my news from the evil (in Rupert’s eyes) state sponsored sites such as the BBC instead.
Expecting people to pay for content that can be found elsewhere depends on your customers being either incredibly stupid and/or lazy, and when the competition is only a mouse click away it doesn’t take much to bypass the site entirely.
One good thing to come out of all this is that the paid-for right wing drivel known as Opinion Pieces are being read by less and less viewers. Heck if I want to read political opinions from the left or right there are many sites all too willing to let me see it for free, otherwise how else will they get their points of view out to the wider world and get it changed for their benefit.

out_of_the_blue says:

LATE thought: So sez the guy who puts part of this site behind paywall!

Casual visitors may not notice, but Two-faced Mike has a paywall here! The gullible get “Insider Chat”, their own icons, and I don’t know what else.

His notion is actually that paywalls he doesn’t approve of don’t work. And he never mentions the New York Times and others sucessfully continuing with paywall.

This is yet another practical example of Mike saying one thing while doing another! That pattern, plus near complete lack of specifics from him on such basics as copyright*, makes me wonder just what his actual position is on everything!

[* He’s only been studying copyright for fifteen years, says it’s too soon to take position; see link below:]

So what is Mike’s position on copyright? — Try to guess from this!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: LATE thought: So sez the guy who puts part of this site behind paywall!

Stop talking to bob. Not only is it making you even more desperate for attention than normal – a small miracle in itself – but you’re starting to adopt his fictional language definitions as well.

“he never mentions the New York Times and others sucessfully continuing with paywall.”

No, never. Wait, he actually wrote about how it’s more successful than he expected even if he doubts its long term prospects… You should know, because you’re one of the idiot trolls who commented.

Your lies are as transparent as ever.

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Coward Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...