The company also announced that it would install metered pay walls at its newspaper websites, including NewsObserver.com. It did not disclose specifics of the plan, which will begin later this year, but in general readers will get certain number of page views free each month before being required to pay a subscription.
I’ve never thought paywalls were a good idea. Opinions differ about their effectiveness. Poyntner says 52% of media professionals leave a website when encountering a paywall. Other newspapers’ efforts to establish a paywall resulted in the opposite of their intended effect:
The Memphis Commercial Appeal has traded a 30-percent drop in traffic for 1,600 people willing to pony up $9.99 a month for digital access.
… and this:
The Columbia Tribune has seen a 25-percent drop in traffic, a decline in engagement, and watched some traffic shift to a different, still-free local news source, all for a meager $80,000 in subscription revenue. And this from a paper that had achieved an impressive 15 percent of its revenue from digital prior to putting up the paywall.
In short, paywalls might work for prestigious papers like the New York Times, but can the N&O provide enough unique content to make online visitors want to pay? In a time when multimedia is the name of the game and YouTube gathers a massive number of eyeballs, can a newspaper site’s text stories compete with the video stories on the sites of local television stations like WRAL.Com?
At a party Friday night, my friends and I were discussing what parts of the News and Observer we still find useful. There weren’t many items listed in the N&O’s favor. Many of the columnists who know the area best, who have given the paper its local flavor, have moved on. The part of the paper that’s of most interest to me – the locally-focused, twice-weekly Midtown Raleigh News (and its counterpart, the North Raleigh News), are given away free both to subscribers and non-subscribers. The N&O is teaming up with the excellent, free, digital-only publication the Raleigh Public Record, which is all too happy to share its content. For the state politics beat, WRAL hired arguably the two best reporters in Mark Binker and Laura Leslie. When you add it all up, what N&O content is left that’s worth paying for?
As a print subscriber as well as a blogger, I won’t be able to highlight in my blog the N&O stories that catch my eye. When these links begin disappearing from the Internet, the newsobserver.com site will fall in the search engine rankings, making it more invisible (and irrelevant) every day.
I’m all about news organizations making money. Perhaps I’m bucking a trend by still being happy to subscribe to the dead-tree edition of the N&O. Even so, I can’t see that this paywall thing will be anything but a disaster for the N&O. At a time when the organization should be going where the “eyeballs” are and expanding its online presence, the corporate bureaucrats want to wall off these viewers and make it harder to read their product (as well as view their advertisements). I hope they reconsider before it’s too late.