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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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Oct 2008 @ 9:47pm

    Newspapers don't make money by selling newspapers. They don't even make money by selling information. They make money by selling eyeballs to advertisers.

    That is not by any means an original observation, but it is something that most newspapers do not understand.

    A few years ago I was in a meeting that showed me that people who run newspapers do not always understand their own business. The meeting was with the owner/publisher of the newspaper in a medium sized city. They had done a survey about comic strips, and they were going to get rid of the strips that were not very poplular. He mentioned a couple of strips that I read regularly. I told him that if it weren't for those comics I probably wouldn't bother to look through anything but the first section of the newspaper. I said that the paper's objective should be to have a couple of comics that would appeal to every person in the city. He said something to the effect of "Gee, that makes a lot of sense."

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