Both McGarry of the Journal Sentinel and Fuller of The Blade compared the arrangement to the role local papers have long had in printing and distributing national publications in their market. “We actually are distributing all of the national print editions” in the Milwaukee area, said McGarry. “It makes sense for us to expand distribution to the digital realm.”
That is in some ways an unusual analogy—part of the promise (and, for newspapers, the peril) of the Internet has always been that it makes distributors irrelevant. But the readers in local markets who seem most likely to value the Post digital subscription are the ones who already subscribe to a national paper—or papers. “We drop off Blade subscriptions and maybe drop three or four different products at these houses,” said Fuller. “National subscribers in our market tend to read all of them.”
If the Post/local partnership takes hold, one of the effects could be that, if those hardcore readers get more selective as subscription rates continue to rise across the industry, they’re more likely to stick with the local paper. If you live in northwest Ohio, value national news, and are going to subscribe to one paper, you might choose The New York Times, and take what local news you can get online before hitting The Blade’s own digital paywall. But if you can get The Blade and the Post as a package deal for a comparable price, that option starts to look more appealing—especially if the Post, under Bezos, continues to invest in its own newsroom.
“Like every market, we’re charging a lot more for subscriptions, and anything we can do that adds more to the subscription pie is a good thing,” said Fuller. “This will hopefully add to the retention of subscribers as we charge more and more in annual subscription rates.” (A new year-long print subscription to The Blade currently costs $182—almost exactly the same as 52 weeks of unlimited access to NYTimes.com.)
That’s speculative, and it depends on the terms of the deal not changing much. There are other speculative scenarios in which the outcome here looks less rosy for local papers. But if this does turn out to be a real “win-win,” it could bolster the local papers’ bottom line and support an editorial focus on local news. That would be a big deal—almost as big as the Post finally going national.
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