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Study: 7 in 10 local news readers wouldn’t greatly miss their hometown paper

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project
Pew’s latest report, a deep dive into the characteristics of people who closely follow local news, is one of those glass-half-full/half-empty situations. Pew reports:

Nearly three quarters (72%) of adults are quite attached to following local news and information, and local newspapers are by far the source they rely on for much of the local information they need. In fact, local news enthusiasts are substantially more wedded to their local newspapers than others.

The report goes on to say that 32 percent of these people say the disappearance of their local paper would have a major impact on their lives. Among people who aren’t that interested in local news, about half say their lives wouldn’t change at all if they didn’t have a local paper. Good, for newspapers, right?

But look at it another way: That means 68 percent of local news enthusiasts don’t believe the disappearance of their local paper would affect their lives in a major way. And 34 percent of such enthusiasts say the disappearance wouldn’t affect their lives at all.

This likely reflects local news enthusiasts’ reliance on TV; Pew reports that 80 percent of them use broadcast TV on a weekly basis, compared to 48 percent for newspapers, 52 percent for radio and 57 percent for “word of mouth.” TV was also the preferred source for weather and breaking news, the two issues local news enthusiasts follow most closely.

Then there’s the issue of paying for news. Read more


David Cohn: It’s about time we had something like Google’s survey alternative to paywalls

“I hope upon hopes that this is a concept whose time has come. Especially in light of the real ‘year of the paywall.’

“What IS a paywall? In essence it makes content valuable by creating scarcity. While good for the bottom line – this is bad for [the] essence of journalism. It says ‘this information is valuable and if you pay you’ll know something that other people won’t.’ The higher purpose of journalism is to create an informed democratic society. Not to create a  subset of society who can afford to be informed.”

David Cohn


Google Customer Survey questions are an offbeat alternative to a paywall

Adweek | paidContent
Speaking at the Guardian’s Open Weekend event, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger asked readers what they’d be willing to give in exchange for the paper’s journalism: money, time or data.

Rusbridger, do I ever have an economic model to throw out at your next chat. Google Customer Surveys are these odd wee questions that interrupt articles at sites that employ them. You tell the box what you like about movie theaters, for example, and then you can read about someone accused of making bomb threats to local schools.
Read more


Morning media roundup: Bradlee and Quinn go ‘Mad’

Things we learned about Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn as Washington Post staff live-blogged their viewing of “Mad Men” Sunday night:

  • Smoking:Sally Quinn says that her husband, Ben Bradlee, smoked three packs a day while executive editor of the Washington Post,” wrote Cory Haik. “He started in the Navy, where everyone smoked. ‘He quit smoking because I told him he was going to kill himself. I smoked Vogue cigarettes. They came in pink or blue with gold filters. I quit when I was trying to get pregnant.’”
  • Safety: Quinn, quoted by Washington Post search editor Justin Bank: “Do you have any idea how scary it was to put pins inside your child’s diapers?” And quoted by UX director Yuri Victor: “There were no seatbelts back then. You put your hand in front of kids when you stopped.”
  • Shaving: “’Ben used to use those shaving brushes,’ says Sally Quinn.”
  • Sleep: Bradlee thought the show was “boring” and went to bed.

Somewhat related: Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton says the paper has no immediate plans for a paywall: “The Post doesn’t think that its core of loyal readers is large enough yet to consider a paywall, but it hopes to get there in a year, maybe two.”

Definitely related to that somewhat related item: The Guardian won’t rule out a paywall. Editor Alan Rusbridger says it’s also possible that readers could volunteer to do shifts moderating comments.

Wisconsin journalists who signed recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker violated Gannett values, say their papers in letters that, as Jim Romenesko pointed out yesterday, are remarkably similar. Read more


Howard Owens: Newspaper paywalls create opportunities for startup news sites

“In every market where a newspaper puts up a paywall, an opportunity is created for an entrepreneur to start a local online news business. … A key rule of disruption is to target the customers undervalued by incumbents. Clearly, any news site that puts up a paywall is telling the community, ‘there’s a lot of people in this town we don’t value.’ That creates pure opportunity for the disruptive entrepreneur.”

Howard Owens

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A year later, a look back at opining on the NYT paywall

The New York Times’ announcement that it will ratchet down on the number of articles that non-subscribers can view for free, from 20 to 10 a month, will inspire a new round of opinionating about whether its subscription plan is working and how readers will respond. Here’s a look back at what people said a year ago when the Times announced the details of its paywall.

In general, predictions that were based on numbers rather than ideology seem most accurate. Ken Doctor and Rick Edmonds both set 300,000 digital subscribers as a modest benchmark; there are now 454,000.

Sunday print circulation is up, confirming initial readings that the plan was designed to slow the erosion of subscribers. I occasionally hear people say they’ve never run into the wall because of their reliance on social, search and multiple devices. And although some speculated that people would stop linking and tweeting to Times stories, or that people would click on them less as they rationed their free allotment, I’ve noticed no shortage of shortened links on Twitter. Read more


Happy hour conversation: Are paywalls disrespectful to readers?

PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy sparked an interesting discussion Thursday when she argued that news sites are “reverting” to paywalls because they can’t fix their business model. Here’s how the conversation went. Read more


Justice Department says e-book sellers colluded to raise prices

The Wall Street Journal | Chicago Reader | Mother Jones
The Justice Department has threatened an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five major book publishers for colluding to raise e-book prices, the Journal reports. At issue was the decision by booksellers, led by Apple, to let book publishers set a single retail price for their e-books. Previously, sellers such as Amazon had offered discount prices to compete for customers.

In other e-books news, Steve Bogira at Chicago Reader agrees with Dwight Garner’s praise of Kindle Singles, but adds, “I’m not crazy about the ‘long-form’ label. Long-form doesn’t bring to mind much that’s positive. Would you rather file the long-form 1040, or the short-form 1040EZ?”

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones takes a closer look at Matter, a crowdfunded startup that will produce a weekly long-form journalism piece for 99 cents. “Their delivery mechanism is beside the point… Basically, if they’re able to consistently produce spectacular pieces of journalism that generate a lot of online buzz, they’ll succeed. If they can’t, they won’t.”

Earlier: Direct publishing of e-books offers hope for long-form journalists (Poynter) Read more


Washington Post steps into paid content with iPad app for politics news

The new WP Politics iPad app, which launches Monday, marks The Washington Post’s most significant attempt yet to charge readers for digital content.

The Post’s website and most everything else it does digitally is free (ad-supported). The company tried charging a nominal $1.99 a year for its main iPhone app when it debuted in 2010, but made it free about a year ago. Its main Android app is free, along with Social ReaderTrove, and niche apps for Redskins news,  D.C.-area transit and entertainment. (The only exception is a monthly fee to download Post stories to an e-reader.)

The new politics iPad app is also free to download and mostly free to use, supported by a persistent banner ad across the bottom of the screen. But users (even print subscribers) must pay $2.99 a month to access premium sections.

“We wanted to try a new business model for premium mobile content and kept the monthly fee low, leaving most of the in-depth content on the politics app free,” Beth Jacobs, the Post’s general manager of mobile, told me by email.

The Insider’s Corner, which aggregates all the Post’s political blogs, is one of the sections that requires a $2.99 monthly subscription.

The premium sections are “The Insider’s Corner,” which pulls together all of the Post’s politics coverage from blogs and beat reporters, and anything older than 48 hours in the “Campaign Files,” which group content by candidate or issue.

Free sections are top news, a candidates and issues guide, interactive maps with polls and voting results, historical election results and TV ads by state.

“The freemium model offers us an opportunity to engage a large audience of habitual users and present them with premium tools and features over time,” Jacobs said. “We believe that those who are passionate about politics will find value in our premium offerings.”

The decision to charge for full access to the politics app stands in contrast to the Post’s main iPad app, which initially was supposed to become a paid product about a year ago but never did. That may change in the near future.

“The Post’s flagship iPad app remains free while we continue to make enhancements to the product,” Jacobs said. “When we begin to charge, we want to make sure we are launching with a compelling, value-add experience.”

Note she said “when,” not “if.” The Post could shift to some form of paid content whenever version 2.0 of the flagship app comes out. With corporate earnings and the newspaper’s operating income slipping, new revenue streams certainly would be welcome.

Who is this app for?

The WP Politics app aims for both depth and creativity, designed to be “essential” for “readers who love politics,” Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli told me by email.

The top news section of the app is highly visual, with images representing every story.

“For people looking to cut through the noise and get to substance, the app offers tools and content to get up to speed on candidates and issues,” he said. “At the same time, its thoroughness and detail — it offers everything from polling data sorted by time and state to historical election results to a campaign ads database and more — makes it the best iPad experience for political junkies and the politically-minded alike.”

The Post’s app joins a few others dedicated to national political coverage. It should compare favorably with Politico’s iPad app, which does a fine job of delivering stories but does not have extra interactive features and deep-dive sections like the Post’s app.

But one thing the Post’s app does not have is aggregated content from other sources. The New York Times’ Election 2012 iPhone app bundles related top stories from multiple sources. The popular newsreading app Flipboard has a curated Election 2012 section.

After the presidential election passes in November, the Post will have to retool its app. “Ultimately, this is The Post’s app for political coverage,” Brauchli said. “We’ll adapt it to covering politics and government, and continue to follow the people, policies and issues that shape the country.” Read more


Journal Sentinel models metro papers’ emerging strategy for paid content

By last summer, The New York Times was well into the metered-model phase of its website, and many midsized and small papers were adopting variations.

But there was a pocket of resistance. Few metros were making the move. They appeared to be worried that they would lose readers for local breaking news to TV sites and for national news to the likes of CNN or MSNBC — or that their content was not compelling enough to attract paying customers with so much free news available on the Web. All that could lead to losses in the one category of advertising that has been growing.

A majority of metros remain holdouts, but the number taking the plunge is growing quickly. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel launched a “JS Everywhere” pay plan Jan. 4 and reported positive results in an earnings conference call Thursday.

A day earlier, Gannett announced that all of its 81 community papers, including such big-city titles as The Arizona Republic and The Indianapolis Star, will have some form of paid digital by the end of the year.

The Los Angeles Times announced Friday that it will launch digital pay packages March 5.

Other metros that started digital pay plans in 2011 include The Dallas Morning News, The Boston Globe and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.

Each success, even modest success, breeds a sense that it’s possible to get digital users to pay. And for now, success means making the shift with minimal loss of traffic and advertising while bolstering print circulation, using a variety of bundled subscriptions that reward print subscribers with free or cheap digital.

Longer-term, papers may raise online prices, generating significant additional subscription revenue and positioning themselves to follow readers to smart phones and tablets.

“I’m getting a lot of calls from other editors about what we are doing,” Martin Kaiser, editor of the Journal Sentinel, told me by phone. “I think others will jump in.”

Mimicking one another’s approach

Kaiser said he spoke extensively with Martin Baron of the Globe and other editors to get details of the Journal Sentinel plan right.

One key decision was to start inexpensive and stay that way for awhile. An online-only subscription costs only 99 cents a week. Kaiser said his research suggested that others “started too high or jumped the rate too quickly.” That is also the introductory price for the L.A. Times, although it doubles after four weeks.

A second twist in the plan was to introduce JS Everywhere in phases; a tablet version is scheduled for late April or early May.

“The tablet is the potential game-changer,” Kaiser said, but he wanted to take enough time to build in a search function, comics display and access to sports statistics.

Borrowing from the Globe and Star Tribune, the tablet launch will come with a free-to-subscribers, two-month trial period, sponsored by a single business.

Other elements of the Journal Sentinel launch have become a standard part of paid online plans:

  • “We prefer to call it a digital subscription package,” Kaiser said. “Both ‘pay’ and ‘wall’ are unpleasant words.”
  • That said, Kaiser and fellow execs were pleased to find in early tests that only 5 percent of users bumped into the wall, which kicks in after 20 free articles, the same number allowed by The New York Times. He conceded that it is hard to determine whether there may be sophisticated users who circumvent the wall, for instance by regularly deleting cookies.
  • Digital access (online, e-replica edition and mobile) is free to print subscribers, even Sunday-only subscribers. So the effect can be to bolster, rather than cannibalize print circulation, especially for the ad-rich Sunday edition. (The L.A. Times takes the Sunday promotion a step further — in effect, online-only subscribers pay $2 extra every week not to get the Sunday paper.

In a little less than two months, the online-only offer has 8,800 takers, which is in line with expectations. That works out out to $450,000 in new circulation revenue per year.

After pulling back on print distribution, a cheaper way to gain remote readers

About three-quarters of the online-only subs come from outside the Milwaukee area. Why is that? “Three words,” publisher Betsy Brenner said in last week’s earning call: “Green Bay Packers.” In fact, about 2,000 of the online-only subscribers are transfers from a paid Packers site that was folded into the new offering.

The Packers are an unusually attractive franchise with broad national reach. But many papers have similar opportunities with followers of big-time, collegiate sports. For instance, I learned several years ago while writing about the Ann Arbor News and its conversion to Ann that University of Michigan sports are a huge driver of traffic (and supported a competing website solely about UM athletics).

Kaiser said that he also noticed last year a significant uptick in traffic from other parts of the state as Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Democrats faced off in a protracted budget dispute.

Nearly all regional papers pulled back coverage and print distribution in remote areas during the advertising swoon of 2007 to 2009. Digital may offer a chance to rebuild a paying, out-of-area audience (admittedly not of interest to local advertisers) without the expense of getting a print paper to them.

Both Kaiser and Brenner said that page views have held strong, with some decline to be expected after the Packers, 2011 Super Bowl champions, were beaten early in last season’s playoffs.

While print subs buy a reader free digital, one other twist in the Journal Sentinel strategy was to raise home delivery prices about 15 percent, to more than $400 a year. To date, Brenner said, there has not been significant resistance through canceled subscriptions “and virtually no trading down” from seven-day print delivery to the much cheaper, online-only package.

Coincidentally or not, the Globe and Dallas Morning News are also both proponents of a high-cost/high-quality strategy, believing that print readers are willing to pay more than they traditionally have if that buys access to strong, original content.

Confidence builder

Kaiser, who is a recent past president of the American Society of News Editors and a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board, draws two lessons from the experience.

He is not necessarily a believer in the “original sin” theory that holds that the industry stumbled disastrously by initially allowing free access to online content. “But,” he said, “a dozen years of that made us afraid of what would happen if it wasn’t free.”

Successful pay packages, he said, “are a huge confidence builder.”

The industry, which tends to move as a pack, held back on paywalls for nearly a decade. Now that the ice is broken, I would expect to see many more papers launch bundled subscription plans in 2012. But encouraging early results do not always lead to sustained success. Some of these paywall venturers may pull back if traffic and advertising losses outweigh the benefits. Read more


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