From Free to Fee in 10 Easy Steps

Just take a look at ABQ's homepage and you know what business they're in, advertising, plain and simple. The stories take a back seat.

Reading the story on how the moved from free to pay just reinforces that. Citing increased costs, and lowered paid subscriptions to the print paper Donn Friedman argues there is nothing wrong with building a wall around your website, after all, they made a quick $100k. Page views are up 30 percent; advertising revenue is up more than 50 percent. And print subscriptions are not falling.

"Like anything else you consume, you should pay for your local newspaper, whether you get it on your doorstep or online."

So why can they charge people? They "… happen to be the sole provider of local news in a remote place, like Spokane or Albuquerque... In remote places, charging for news online can work, the logic goes, because readers don't have another place they can easily go to get the content and service you provide."
In other words, we've got you, you owe us, and you're going to pay. What're you going to do, there's no where else to go!

The arrogance runs deep in this piece, but what really strikes me is this paragraph:

"Reporters may be your hardest sell. What reporter would be in favor of reducing his potential audience? Reporters often choose journalism because they want to report the truth and share it with the largest number of people that they can. Journalism is a higher calling to them, not a business."

I've always felt journalism is a higher calling; it's not just a business. Journalism a corner stone of democracy, and it needs to be as open, accessible and honest as possible. There is nothing wrong with making money with whatever you do, but I just don't feel good about the politics of greed and power that control what gets reported, and in this case, who reads it. Especially in this case because they " happen to be the sole provider of local news in a remote place." In my mind this is an argument to leaving access open, to finding another way to get the site to pay for itself.

So, lets play what if… What if some, most, or worse case scenario, all local papers start charging for access? What happens to weblogs, alternative local papers, the newswire services and other news outlets? Do weblogs dry up and die from lack of places to link to? Do we start to become sources of news? Do we simply rely on any free sources we can get our grubby little links on? There is nothing wrong with having a profit motive behind what you do, but I really believe it should take a back seat in many cases, and it never does.

"What I do has value, he said, and people ought to be willing to pay for it."

…And if they're not willing to, we'll force them to pay.

Comments

ABQ Journal and friends

These people are slugs. I totally agree with you and condemn those journalistic enterprises that will only let you view their websites for free. Granted newspapers too need to make money, and they need advertising dollars (hey, ever seen the number of ads in the front section of the NYTimes?) but otherwise I think the New York Times model works pretty well -- register for free and view whatever you want to for seven days for free and paid thereafter. As you know, I'm particularly peeved with Reed Elsevier, who have ceased free publication of PW Daily for Booksellers and have severely curtailed the LJ website for free viewers. It's bad enough that the poor booksellers are dropping like flies because of the chains and Amazon...now they have to pay to read about which indies are going bust! Kudos to you Blake for keeping it all free and available for us in the library field...you've got the right attitude and besides that, you do good work.

oops - significant typo

SHOULD BE A FEE/instead of "for free"

(that will only let you view their websites...
FOR A FEE.)

Re:ABQ Journal and friends

I think they're allowed to charge, but to have to have a subscription to access today's Page One articles is ridiculous. Do they think that most people in the Albuquerque area have internet access AND wouldn't pay for a paper if they could read it online? I doubt it.

A Google search for "end of free" brings up some pretty interesting sites and news items. Something that has been around for a while is a site called, appropriately, The End of Free. This ABQJournal news is there in the December 10 entries.

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