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Say That Again

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
archives, newspapers, paywall



Dear Newspapers: Locking Up Archives Shrinks Your Business

from the let's-try-this-again dept

Plenty of folks have pointed this out for years, but newspapers that try to lock up their back archives and charge for viewing those articles are very likely hurting their bottom line more than helping it. That's because those archives are a treasure trove of info that people would be interested in finding via a search engine -- but they almost never want to pay for it. For many years, the NY Times tried locking up its archives and charging to read stories, but eventually did the math and realized it made a lot more sense to put all its archives online for free, and make money off the ads. Since removing the barriers, the NY Times has seen its traffic spike significantly, and its archives have become a significant portion of the overall site's traffic.

However, some newspapers still can't see the forest for the trees, and think that the answer is to charge high prices to view old articles. That most likely just gets people to look elsewhere, and diminishes ad revenue as well. Parker Mason has written an open letter to the Toronto Globe & Mail decrying its continued practice of charging $5 for access to a single archived article (for just 30 days of access). It's a good read, and I'm guessing that folks like Mathew Ingram, who works at The Globe, have been pushing for changes to the paper's policy, but until then, the company seems to be hurting itself. Mason's letter is well worth reading, but here's a snippet:
But then you go and do something like trying to charge me $4.95 for a newspaper article that I've already paid for and read, and this hurts me (telling me that this content will only be available for 30 days only adds insult to injury).

Your greatest asset is the thousands and thousands of pages of information and news stories that you have in your archives. People want to view this content, and just as they have endured advertising in your print publications, they'll endure the same kind of advertising on your website.

I understand your thinking when it comes to locking up this content behind a pay wall: it is valuable information, so people will pay to see it.

The problem is, you are only half-right. It is valuable information, but only when it is easy to access. In the age of Google, people will quickly move on and find the information elsewhere, somewhere where it easier to get at.

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 14 Oct 2008 @ 1:48am

    Re:

    There's two things here. Firstly, locking up the content makes it more difficult to find in the first place. If it's free, I can find the archived story through a Google search and provide eyeballs for the ads. If it doesn't come up in Google, I might not know that the archived story even exists in the first place and thus (of course) not pay for it. Mason's also right in that if the Globe story doesn't come up in a Google search, maybe another organisation's story will come up and I'll visit their site instead.

    It's not whining, it's pointing out that the paywall can potentially reduce the revenue rather than increase it.

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