Monday, April 23, 2012

My guest column for the Times-News

The Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, announced over the weekend that it would go to a subscriber-based online model on May 1. The response was predictable -- outraged people, most of whom rarely, if ever, actually read the paper -- flooded the paper's Facebook page with complaints. The publisher, John Pfeiffer, asked if I'd write a guest column based on our experience at the PR. It is below.      
The Post Register, which has roughly the same circulation and has essentially the same community mission as the Times-Register, never has given away its most precious asset -- its local news -- for free.

 For a few years, we dabbled on the Internet, putting only a small portion of our news online. But in early 2002 we got serious -- we put our entire newspaper online, but we asked our readers to subscribe to the online edition, just as we have since 1880 for our print edition.
 It seemed to us -- and this is dawning on more and more publishers lately -- that it simply didn’t make any sense to expect a reasonable fee for our print edition but nothing for the same information provided online. It is, in a word, crazy. Beyond that, it’s blatantly unfair to subscribers who faithfully and willingly pay for their news in print while online readers get it for free.
Hundreds of newspapers across the country are following suit, and I applaud the Times-News for being one of them. This has nothing to do with greed -- it’s all about finding a sustainable business model in the exciting but challenging new media world. That’s in the best interests of the newspapers’ readers and advertisers.
 To the newspapers’ advertisers, I would say this: While fewer people may “visit” the newspapers’ paid web site, the ones who come (and it will be many) will be exactly the ones you want to attract -- serious, frequent, purposeful consumers of the Magic Valley’s best information source.

I have a friend who runs a pizza restaurant. I mentioned to him that he could move a lot more pizza if he just gave it away. He just stared back at me, until he realized that I was serious.
“OK, how do I pay my bills?” he asked.
“Well,” I responded, “why don’t you charge advertisers to put up some signs around your building and people will see them when they come in to pick up their free pizza.”
That was the end of that conversation. You think the news business is different? You think the Internet has magically changed the mathematics of running a business? It has not. The Times-News is not Google -- it can’t get pennies per interaction on a global scale and make a business of it.
And we should all be glad for that.

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