by Garret Ean
May 23, 2011
The information age we have seen develop with the rise of the internet has changed the way media is consumed forever. Paying for music, television, film, books, and newsprint has become a voluntary practice. While some have capitalized on this global change, others have clung to the notion of trying to make outdated business models work for them. The middle man in many industries has lost their market, and this is all the better for musicians who don’t have to sign away their talents to record labels and videographers to production studios. The market has enabled direct, mass communication between content producers and content consumers. With so many creative minds offering so many products free of charge, a product must prove its value above and beyond its competition before it can consider charging its users for the experience.
Over the past few years, there have been experiments with paywalls by some of the nation’s most recognizable publications. A google search of “paywall fail” suggests that these business models do not prove very effective for their enablers. From an outreach perspective, even if a company is successful in gaining enough subscribers to make their pay wall profitable, they still are making the decision to limit their user base significantly. While the numbers would be difficult to determine, a conservative estimate is that the vast majority of content-seeking consumers would turn away at the wall.
This May, the city’s hometown paper, also one of the largest newspapers in the state, decided to wall off its content for only paying customers. Print subscribers get unlimited access provided they register themselves, and daily access costs one dollar. The price for non-subscribing users seeking unlimited monthly access is $9.99 per month, or $99.00 per year. Strangely enough, subscribing to the Sunday-only print edition of the paper is $7.99 per month and gets you an online pass. The Concord Monitor should ask itself whether or not it is in its own interests to turn away so many who would actively seek its services.
Though I seldom find myself in agreement with the Monitor’s editorializing, I have always appreciated the breadth of coverage given to Concord area news which is not currently found elsewhere. Their actions have just inadvertently given the paper’s competition a market advantage. I’ll definitely be making more of a habit of checking out the Concord Insider’s website, which is and hopefully will remain forever free, just like the hard copies you can find around the city. This also creates an opening for larger competition such as the Union Leader to expand some of its own focus into the Concord area, to fill the void left by the Monitor’s outdated-new approach to media distribution.
While critiquing local media moguls, it would be wise for the Union Leader to cease the practice of reporting “only in print” stories, which they tease the readers of their web content with. Information wants to be free, and the reward for providing more to your content consumers that could easily be published online seems to far outweigh any risk. Does the paper honestly expect a few headlines whose stories are unavailable online to inspire many readers to go out and purchase a hard copy?
While the void left by the Monitor can be filled by their current competition, there is also room here for the independent media activist to step up as well. Upon introduction, the New York Times paywall was easily hacked by readers simply altering the url of entry. Anyone with server space willing to take a small intellectual property risk could mirror the full sites of paywalled publications for all to see. This would certainly capture my attention, and be the only way I would be consuming paywalled content until they free themselves.