This overestimates the technological abilities of the vast majority of computer users, much less their willingness to cheat. You have to wonder why those nearly half a million people are forking over $15 a month or more for The New York Times. Anyway, this can also be a feature, not a bug.
But it doesn’t take $25 million to launch a paywall. Press+, for instance, which now has 350 publications as clients, sets it up for you and charges 20 percent of revenue.
Owens also points out that the Morning News plans to spend $4 million in the next year marketing online subscriptions. I’m glad to see a media company investing in its paper, but that money would be better spent beefing up the paper’s news staff. As Klingensmith tells me, “You don’t have to spend any money “marketing a meter” - people just bump into it as they are browsing your site.”
5. “It takes a packaged bundle to sell good journalism to the masses.”
Who’s talking about unbundling that package? And what does “Paywall schemes disaggregate content and remove it from its traditional package” mean? Because you’re online now you can’t have sports and crime news and politics and entertainment and classifieds and coupons and comics and opinion columns? Huh?
But it really gets my goat when the anti-paywall types break out the old canard, as they seem to always do, that “readers never paid for news.” Owens:
As one of my heroes, Walter Lippman, pointed out in 1920, “Nobody thinks for a moment that he ought to pay for his newspaper.”
Yes, I ought not have to pay for my daily bread, but if the baker charges me, I’ll fork it over. This is very simple: I want to read your newspaper. You charge me for it. I pay, grumbling about that two-bit newsstand increase you just soaked customers for. Transaction closed.
Very few readers buy the paper for the fish wrap. They buy it because of what’s printed on it, (including, in some cases, the ads).
One of Owens’s points about how readers don’t really pay for news is that 85 percent of newspaper subscribers say they buy it for local news. “That means 15 percent of the buyers didn’t care about local news.” All righty, then.
6. “There are numerous free alternatives in every metro market for news, which will greatly reduce the adoption and retention rate of paid digital subscribers.”
Make your paper as indispensable as you can make it, grab the subscribers you can grab, and let the rest browse fifteen stories a month. If your core readers don’t think you’re worth anything, you’re probably not worth anything.
7. “The barrier to entry for producing local news is quite low in the Digital Age.”
As a cautionary tale, Owens points to a paywall failure from four years ago at the Watertown Daily Times. That paper erected a paywall in 2000 and pulled it down in 2008 after a local news aggregator grabbed Web share. What Owens doesn’t say is that Watertown’s was a relatively prehistoric paywall—the all-or-nothing type—and that the paper’s own managing editor said last year that “A subscription (paywall) website is going to have to happen.”
But that miss is fitting since Owens gives little evidence of understanding the point of the leaky paywall system, which is about getting your core readers to pay you money directly while monetizing casual readers via advertising.
8. “The wrong people are pushing paywalls.”
Most of the paywall advocates I see and read around the Web are the same people in the late 1990s who proclaimed the Web to be a fad. They’re the same people who throughout my online newspaper career didn’t want to break news online, didn’t want to carry a video camera, didn’t want to feature current local news on the homepage, didn’t want to engage with online readers—they pretty much either worked actively or passively to sabotage every attempt at online innovation.