The Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Massachusetts is embarking on a risky proposition. It will begin to charge readers for online news stories produced by its editors and reporters (while supposedly keeping wire copy and other syndicated content free).
The T&G is one of the largest daily newspapers in New England and covers the state’s second largest city – Worcester – and all of Central Massachusetts. The newspaper – like its sister publication the Boston Globe – is owned by the New York Times Company.
(Full disclosure: I’m a former reporter with the T&G and still have friends on the staff. Although I have not been paid by the T&G since I left in 1999, I am set to collect a small pension from them when I retire).
The paid content announcement by the T&G this week has few details. But according to the newspaper, here’s how it will work:
“Newspaper subscribers will continue to be able to access all content at no charge. However, non-subscribers will be asked to pay after they hit a predetermined number of staff-generated local news articles. After users pass that limit, they will be asked to pay a monthly charge or buy a day pass. The price and threshold have not been determined.
Much of telegram.com’s content will continue to be free, including breaking news bulletins, wire service stories, obituaries, classified ads, local blogs, photo galleries and videos. All information from the newspaper’s weekly news and information products, available on TelegramTowns.com, will also remain free. The only content that would carry a price is that produced by Telegram & Gazette news staff.”
There doesn’t seem to be much new here. A lot will depend on the T&G‘s ability to strike a balance. Where is the tipping point of free and paid? They’ll need to find a formula that gives people a large enough bite of the content so that they’ll be incentive to buy more.
Clearly, they have not figure out that formula yet. Quite frankly, no one has.
There is no doubt that newspapers have to figure out a way to monetize their content online. It’s a matter of survival. Besides, paid content, as I’ve argued before, has value and is more reliable than free content. But the question of how to monetize has been the biggest stumbling block. Is erecting firewalls the way to go?
Media reporter Mark Leccese at the Boston Globe likes the idea, but then again he can’t even get the T&G‘s name right, so he might not be the best authority on the subject.
The challenge for the T&G is that the subscription model they are considering – even with the improvements – has failed miserably in the past (see the recent decision by Newsday to put their entire content behind a pay wall. Only 35 people signed up). A recent study by PaidContent.org highlighted the dismal results that newspapers with paid-only subscriptions have faced.
The lowdown of that study? Twenty-four newspapers with a combined circulation of several hundred thousand could only find 10,000 subscribers among them. That’s a terrible number.
But other publications like the Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and ESPN have had some success.
Kudos to the T&G for taking the risk. It is certainly one that the industry will be following closely. So far most of the readers who have commented on their announcement think it is a bad idea.
Will it work? I have my doubts.
What about you? Should newspapers charge for content? Does the T&G have the right model? What do you think?