Friday, April 27, 2012

Pay walls now at 80 percent


More than a long, lonely decade ago, the Post Register ventured onto a limb perched over thin ice up a creek without a paddle.
 
We had the audacity to ask you, our readers – well, we pretty much insisted – to pay a small fee for our news, information and advertising product, whether you received it in print or online. The immediate response was an outpouring of anger and resentment, lasting months and leaving us a little bruised.

At no time, however, did we question the decision to join a handful of other newspapers – we knew of two – that had erected what came to be known as a “pay wall” on our web site.

Today, more than 500 of our readers are online-only subscribers and another 6,000 are combined online/print subscribers.

More remarkable is the recent finding that 80 percent of American newspapers now have some kind of paid digital content – a pay wall, if you will. Another 15 percent are “planning or considering one.” These pay walls (we prefer to use the term “online subscriber model) take many different forms, but the message is clear – the future of newspapers online will include some kind of subscription as part of the mix.

It’s interesting to note that this survey was conducted by Borrell Associates, Inc., in behalf of the American Press Institute. Gordon Borrell has long opposed pay walls as a model, though of late he’s suggested that they might be suitable in some circumstances.

He’s probably been a little surprised by the results of his own survey.

Ten years on, I suspect the issue of paying for the Post Register online is mostly settled among our readers and those who are willing to pay for it are doing so and those who think it’s a bad idea are finding other ways to get the news they want. There’s a lot that remains unsettled, however.

For example, how to address the trend toward mobile devices replacing the home computer as the primary computing machine of choice? Tablets pose less of a challenge – they look and feel enough like a laptop that the transition is relatively straightforward. But what about smart phones, some of which have nearly the computing power of a PC from not so long ago?

Getting info to your smart phone isn’t the problem. The problem once again, is doing it in a way that is sustainable – reasonably inexpensive for the user, reasonably profitable for the provider. We’re a long way from solving that one. 

However, we have our best people on it, including a company from the East Coast and one from right here in Idaho. We’re going to figure this one out, too.
         

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