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Providence Journal shows how not to do a paywall

Providence Journal shows how not to do a paywall

I was surprised to go to The Providence Journal website today and to see an announcement that ProJo had built a new website with a new url. (no longer projo.com but providencejournal.com) and a paywall:

The Providence Journal news organization is moving to the paid eEdition to protect the investment it makes every day in gathering and publishing Rhode Island news.

“Like other major newspapers across the country, we’ve come to the realization that giving away our content free is not a sound business plan,” said Howard G. Sutton, publisher, president and chief executive officer of The Providence Journal.

The new paywall takes effect in a month, but all my prior links to the ProJo already are dead because of the url. change.  There will continue to be access to “breaking news” and some other features.

I don’t track these things specifically, but I’m confident that in the past three years I have sent at least tens of thousands of readers over to the ProJo website, maybe even hundreds of thousands.  No more. Unlike The NY Times paywall, there doesn’t appear to be an exception for incoming links from other websites.  Unlike The Wall Street Journal paywall, there is not a large free amount of content to which others can link (there is some but not the meaningful content).  So ProJo effectively has cut itself off from the rest of the blogosphere.  I’ll miss ProJo.com.  But not so much that I’ll pay for the content, or send readers over to dead links. Strike One.

The ProJo is the only statewide paper and in many ways the paper of record, and it does very good work covering Rhode Island politics.  But it’s not as indispensable as it once was.  As commenters to the announcement pointed out, there is a growing body of alternatives, including GoLocal.prov, Patch, local town newspapers with websites, and the various television stations (WPRI,  ABC6, TurnTo10) which have websites.  The free content at the old ProJo.com pretty much smothered these upstarts.  No more.  ProJo has opened up the online market.  Strike Two.

Cutting itself off from the world also diminishes ProJo’s influence.  The reason ProJo is so dominant and influential is that everyone in Rhode Island can read it for free online, as can people out of state.  This open structure makes ProJo the RI website of record not only for Rhode Islanders, but for the world.  ProJo is doing everything it can to cut off this record, including putting the archives behind the paywall:

The eEdition will be searchable, including back issues from Jan. 17, 2011, and forward. That service is free for subscribers. Older archives, back to 1983, will be searchable for free, though a fee must be paid to download full stories.

ProJo goes from being a paper with an influence and reputation which far exceeds its reach to a paper which far under-reaches.  Strike Three.

If ProJo had a cost structure problem it should have fixed that problem instead of trying to cut itself off from the world.  ProJo doesn’t seem to understand that its greatest asset is its readers, not its staff.  The readers can live without ProJo, but ProJo cannot live without its readers.

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Comments

We have a similar thing happening with the daily paper here (CA) – they give you 5 ‘free’ visits, then the paywall kicks up (it doesn’t actually give you 5, more like 2-3). The add-on fee, if you subscribe, is only $2 a month, but people are not doing it, because it is the principle of the thing. So the blogs are all about private browsing settings and clearing cookies, with much hilarity.

It’s a serious issue, though. On some level, I do understand that they need to charge.

The free-wheeling wild-west days of the internet are coming to a close, there’ll be ever more clamping down with taxation and fees.

OTOH – all the free exposure they get from Bloggers will be gone – and it is something they should consider. Because subscriptions don’t make them the same kind of money ads do – and when you sell ads, what you are selling is eyes, and the more eyes that see the ads, the better you can deliver to your advertisers, and the more you are worth… that’s what ought to be the determining factor. Those referrals from Blogs mean real money, and real stature.

“Like other major newspapers across the country, we’ve come to the realization that giving away our content free is not a sound business plan,”

They’ll soon find out that neither is charging for it. Boston Globe either has done or is going to do something similar. They have boston.com which will remain free but with, I assume, reduced content and then bostonglobe.com which will be the full content pay site.

I kind of understand the newspapers’ frustration and, frankly, I enjoy it. There is too much good content available for free to ever justify paying for any of the daily rags. WSJ, IBD and the like might be exceptions, but much of their content is specialized as opposed to just ‘news’.

But I don’t pay for either of those either.

I have noticed that it has become difficult, if not impossible, to find original news articles I know exist from a local or regional paper via Google. That means that the local paper is deprived of potentially developing into a more influential (with better-paid ads) news source.

I would be willing to use a link that charges me a nominal fee (2 cents seem appropriate) and would be non-functional for anybody else to link, without a similar fee.

Just sayin’

Well Professor, I really don’t have anything to say in your disagreement with ProJo. I just wanted to comment to let you know that U have LULU-ed me today and I have visited your site at least a dozen times today to listen to that sexy kitten! Oh me oh my……. 😉

Projo just doesn’t get it. Over the years they have cut back and cut back, eliminated local editions, eliminated local news. I guess I still need them for state coverage and a few columnists I like (especially Edward Acorn and Mark Patinkin) and, of course, the comics. My wife commented the last time they raised their price that perhaps we really didn’t need them.

I grew up with a daily local newspaper (not a very good one — the Kingston NY Daily Freeman — but it was part of my life growing up) — then I lived in the Middletown NY Times Harold Record territory for a few years — and then spent almost a quarter of a century with the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin (yeah, I used to get them both when they were still separate papers).

I used to pick up the Wall Street Journal almost every day for many years when I still commuted to an office for work, but since I joined the 21st century and work from home via computers, I only seem to buy one when I am in an airport. (I cannot imagine them tossing a WSJ on my front lawn every morning down here in South County.)

I would miss having my daily newspaper… but Projo is pushing me away every time they cut back and cut back. One of these days I may decide that I can get by with the weekly South County Independent and the Narragansett Times (twice weekly) for local news and the Internet for the rest.

As a former RI resident, the old ProJo site was a good place to keep up on the reasons that I left the state in the first place. But to pay for such info is just plain insulting…

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