Monday, October 21, 2013

Almighty dollars or readability on news websites?

Paywalls. The limit on the amount of news stories a user can read for free on a newspaper's website are slowly being implemented across the country. They, however, aren't being implemented without plenty of research beforehand. The number of free articles varies per site but ten seems to be a popular number per 30-day cycle.

The big gripe is that even when you pay for the unlimited access you are still faced with a litany of advertisements on most websites. What, then, is the benefit of paying for unlimited free content? Yes, you are supporting legitimate journalism but if you actually want to entice users to convert to paid digital subscribers, you must give them an enhanced experience or in some way reward them. Today's 35 year-olds have grown up with the web being essentially free regardless of the URL visited. They aren't likely to fork over their hard-earned cash for unlimited content inside the same ad-littered framework and think that it's been well worth their money.

I've seen some newspaper groups offer their unlimited digital subscription for nearly free when purchased alongside a print subscription but that, to me at least, devalues the digital content and the digital content is still in that same earlier mentioned ad-littered framework that non-paid users see. One of the few added value items with a print+digital subscription is having the archived content available as well as the often-dreaded comment sections. Oh, sure, there are infrequently updated blogs and breaking news which is more important when coming from a weekly newspaper but at its core it's still the same content as you are receiving in your mailbox in print each week.

Newspapers should embrace the public radio membership model. Let subscribers feel a sense of ownership in the product which they patronize. It builds much more of a community feel that allowing unlimited access to the same content average users can receive with a little creativity such as deleting a cookie. I could offer up a whole list of sensible, creative and revenue-generating ideas here but why give the milk away for free?

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