Why Are Newspaper Subscribers Angry Over Online-Only Content?

from the don't-get-it dept

We've definitely seen some newspapers who think that the solution to their troubles is to "withhold" content from their online sites, believing that this will somehow bring people back to paying for the physical paper, rather than have them just ignore the story altogether. However, I have to admit that I was quite surprised to read in the NY Times the reaction of some Washington Post paper subscribers to the news that the Post recently put an investigative report "online only," basically going in the opposite direction.

In reality, the Post got the equation right. Printing something in the paper is expensive -- and the paper decided it was more economical to put the content online and save on newsprint costs. And since the content was freely available online, who would complain? Apparently paper subscribers -- though I'm not sure what their real complaint is:
"Newspapers are going broke in part because news can be read, free of charge, on the Internet. As a nearly lifelong reader of The Post, I could not read this article in the paper I pay for and subscribe to; instead I came on it accidentally while scrolling online for business reasons."
This gets a few things wrong. The newspapers aren't going broke because they're putting news online for free. They're going broke due to dumb management decisions (massive debt) and an inability to recognize that their "captive audience" has gone away because they suddenly face competition. But the bigger point is that this guy isn't missing out on anything. The story is still available to him, as it is to everyone else. There's lots of stuff on the web that isn't included in the physical paper. Does he also complain about the fact that the website has comments that he can't read without going online?

In the end, it sounds like the people who are complaining have simply fallen into the same trap as those who believe that newspapers putting content online was a "mistake," rather than the only thing they could do if they wanted to compete in the market.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Joseph Durnal, Jun 23rd, 2009 @ 8:37pm

    My Local Paper

    My local paper recently dropped their Monday edition. Most thought it was no big deal, but I've noticed that the online content for Monday has suffered in quality, and quantity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 23rd, 2009 @ 8:50pm

    yeah, those dumb consumers. Who needs them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Chargone, Jun 23rd, 2009 @ 9:15pm

    Re: My Local Paper

    wouldn't surprise me if that was purely due to no longer putting any great effort into it based on the thought that only the printed paper Really mattered, or something along those lines.

    that is, still Because of the paper, rather than due to it's lack.

    of course, this is based on nothing in particular ^_^

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    William C Bonner, Jun 23rd, 2009 @ 9:51pm

    Paper is good for storage

    The main problem with electronic media delivery is the lack of permanence. If a paper puts something up right now, it may be modified later with no record of the original.

    Delayed, in depth, reporting is ideal for print because more time goes into putting together the story, and it should have a longer lasting impact. I'm not saying that the same content shouldn't be available on-line. I think more stuff being on-line is good, as well as the community aspects of feedback. I'm just concerned about the lack of permanence.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Rena Mooney, Jun 23rd, 2009 @ 10:16pm

    Re: Paper is good for storage

    I've said almost the identical thing here. There's a danger in online-only content, which can be modified or deleted at will by any corporate interest, communist or dictatorial-minded government. That said, I am a hypocrite of the highest order, as I no longer subscribe to any print newspapers, but I do believe that printed content is invaluable. There's a security in content that once published cannot be erased.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Scott, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 3:55am

    I think the problem is that many people that subscribe to a newspaper regularly do so because they prefer it over reading articles online. They like the "paper" feel and have a hard time reading long text on a site. So for the article to not show up in the paper, and online only, is irritating to that crowd. They want the same content the online content provides but in the paper.

    Granted, I'm not of that mindset. I prefer everything via RSS. For me the USA Today is USA Yesterday. However, the shift for paper subscribers to web is either going to have to happen overnight or the paper just closes up shop. Paper subscribers are loyal to the folded ink. Transitioning them, gently, is going be harder in the long run than moving completely to web. The newspaper company may lose money in the short term from subscribers (and refunds) but the long term benefits will be better...IMHO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    surfer, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 6:57am

    if you did your research, his complaint is that the article was online only, when in fact he pays for the newspaper that did NOT carry said article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Ulrike Langer, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 7:27am

    Re: paper is good for storage

    I agree with the "don't get it dept". What exactly is the reader angry about? That anyone can read the article online and not just the paying subscribers of the paper who should get an exclusive privilege? Or that he'll be able to find the article any time later by just typing some keywords into Google instead of rummaging through his pile of old newspapers or regretting that he tossed it into the garbage? ( That sentence is in reference to comments 4 and 5: Online is much better for storage)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    TimmyJ, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 8:42am

    It seems clear to me that the reader was upset that he was paying for a delivery mechanism for Washington Post articles and not getting them all that way. If I were paying the Washington Post to email me all of its articles and found out that they were not sending me all of them I would be upset too. When you find yourself paying for the value-added parts of a something that is infinite and free like news or music, you want to get all of what you think that you paid for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Petréa Mitchell, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 9:15am


    That's how I read it, too. This is part of the reason I dropped my subscription to Science News-- after their latest redesign, there was this graphic at the top of most of the news pages which essentially said, "This is an abridged version of the actual news story and you can only read the full version on our Web site." As someone who spends all day staring at a computer screen, I was willing to keep paying to be able to read it offline, but only as long as I actually got the whole thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 9:25am

    online stories from the NY Times

    Finish the story - did the NY Times put a note in the paper that there were stories online but not in the paper? If not, I agree with the complainer, if so, no sympathy.
    However, you need to exercise your admittedly good reporting skills more effectively.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Dave (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 9:30am

    I want my paper

    I want my paper with all the stories at the breakfast table with my coffee. I might later go on-line to cut-n-paste parts of an article to send to someone, or to bookmark it for future reference, but in the AM I'm cranky - and I want all of the stories in the paper.

    Someday a Kindle-like device might replace my morning paper. Someday. But that day isn't here yet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Jason Phillips, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 3:44pm

    Re: online stories from the NY Times

    did the NY Times put a note in the paper that there were stories online but not in the paper?
    Yes, it's in the Masthead of the Paper... it says "www.nytimes.com"
    Also, Who is this person they cite in the story?
    "As a nearly lifelong reader of The Post, I could not read this article in the paper I pay for and subscribe to;:
    This is a wrong-headed statement. He could read it in the "paper" he pays for. just not the one that arrives at his door.
    "instead I came on it accidentally while scrolling online for business reasons."
    And this... it has nothing to do with the story, but when I read this statement I see some 60+ luddite who writes letters to the editor every week to complain about some new-fangled technology or teenage dance fad that's going to destroy the U.S. Those are the people who are trying to legislate away the freedoms of the internet and destroy the viable hybrid economy. Those are the people we shouldn't listen to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 24th, 2009 @ 10:15pm

    Re: I want my paper

    I happen to like reading books, magazines, etc. that do not require batteries to work. Kinda hard to keep up with news when AC power is lost and batteries die out.

    Same goes for cameras. Digitals are nice until you run out of battery power and realize all your spares also also fully discharged.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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