News will sell subscription for website access
By John Green – The Hutchinson News – firstname.lastname@example.org
Starting today, complete access to The Hutchinson News website will require a subscription.
Visitors to http://www.hutchnews.com won’t notice any difference on the site right away because the home page and some content will remain free to browse and users will be able to access up to 10 individual stories each month without having to subscribe, Editor and Publisher John Montgomery said.
“Mainly, it’s because the website has grown and become such an important medium,” Montgomery said of the decision to start charging for access. “People getting their news from the Web are getting a product that’s no different than the paper. The content is the same. In some cases, they’re actually getting more from the Web, in videos or content there was not space for in the paper.”
While some argue there is no cost for materials on the website, such as the newsprint, ink and delivery costs associated with the print edition, “there is a tremendous cost in newsgathering,” Montgomery said.
“We do have a newsroom to support,” he said.
Subscription costs will reflect the difference in cost for delivering the news through the two mediums.
The price for full access to the Web will be $9.75 a month, compared to $14.35 a month, before taxes, for home delivery of the newspaper within the city limits of Hutchinson. Those who already are print newspaper subscribers can get access to the Web edition for an extra $1.95 a month.
Some links on The News’ site will remain free, such as access to breaking news and wire service reports. Niche websites of The News, including http://www.justpreps.com and http://www.kansasagland.com, also will remain free.
The News has partnered with a third party, under the trade name Press+, to manage the subscriber platform. About two dozen other newspapers around the country have paid websites on the same platform.
Occasional visitors, such as someone out-of-state looking for an obituary, still will be able to access that for free. But The News will ask avid readers to subscribe.
After a visitor to HutchNews.com has opened two stories on the site, a pop-up window will inform the reader of the new subscription service and give the opportunity to subscribe. Another notice will remind a reader of the need to subscribe after seven page views.
“We hope it will generate some revenue, so we can maintain our investment in newsgathering, and we hope it will strengthen our circulation,” Montgomery said. “We have seen some erosion of our print circulation to people who find they can read for free on the Web.”
When I first read this article, all I could think was, “You have to be kidding me! That won’t work!”
Why did I think that? That’s easy. The Hutchinson News isn’t The New York Times or any other national daily. It is a small daily in central Kansas.
See, news has been free on the Internet since the Internet really became a big deal. Big papers can risk going backward and start requiring users to pay for the content because they have an international reader base. Even if they lose a few readers behind the paywall, the chances are they will recoup the loss.
The Hutchinson News isn’t like that. It serves a relatively small community, which makes it a hometown news source. People in the community of Hutchinson aren’t going to like being charged for the online content, and that is evident in the comment thread on the story.
People are very upset because of a myriad of reasons, which include but are not limited to poor quality, a lack of local news and high-priced print subscriptions.
Already a lot of people are vowing to never visit The Hutchinson News’ website again, which will affect online advertising. This will in turn affect the local economy. The economy will be further hurt if enough people turn away from The Hutchinson News that has to scale back the staff of reporters and editors who report the news in both print and online.
I fear this could bring The Hutchinson News to the brink of death, and they only people they’ll have to blame for their demise is themselves. They didn’t understand their customer base and how the site is used by them.
Some comments argued that The Hutchinson News is already too liberal of a publication in a decidedly conservative area. Fine. Whatever. I’m not going to get political here. I happen to think The Hutchinson News is a great publication, and its printing services are the best around.
Sure, maybe there’s not as much local news as there is regional, state and national in the print and online versions, but that’s the nature of a daily newspaper. They have to fill the pages every day. Could they handle the task better? Sure, but I’m not debating that here.
I am focused on the fact that I worry The Hutchinson News is threatening its own life by enacting this paywall. The backlash could be intense, and as a journalist, I hate to see any news organization struggle because journalism is very important in our society. Without it, we couldn’t have a working democracy. Without journalism, officials would be able to work in secret and the public would never know what is truly going on. Openness is key, and journalists provide the openness.
Now, I understand the fiscal reasons behind it. Producing good journalism takes money, and the world of print journalism is in a bit of a pinch currently. Print advertising revenues are in a downward spiral. Free, online classifieds like Craig’s List are hurting newspapers, and since newspaper are blaming free online sites such as this one for their problems, charging for online content seems to make sense.
However, you can’t go backwards. You can’t give something away for free and then suddenly decide you want money for it. It’s like taking a child’s favorite toy away after a few years of him or her falling in love with it. It doesn’t end well.
The only way a paywall can work is if the paywall is up in the beginning. The only downside to this, though, is news organizations didn’t know how important of a part the Internet would be in the business when they first set up websites. They had no way of knowing, so they are all charged with the task of rectifying the situation.
Some news outlets are trying to figure out a new revenue model more delicately, while others, such as The Hutchinson News, are just jumping in and hoping for the best. All that people can do now is either accept it or stop patronizing The News. Only time will tell which group of people will be larger.
I wish them the best of luck, but I firmly believe Hutchinson, Kansas, isn’t the right market for an after-thought paywall.
Of course, just as The New York Times found out, there are ways around the paywall. As one person with the screen name “Kristen” commented, you can clear your Internet browser cookies and the paywall’s free “access up to 10 individual stories each month without having to subscribe” won’t work. The site won’t know you’ve ever been there.
That should be a lesson learned for The Hutchinson News. People are smart. They can find ways around things.
That doesn’t make it right that users are refusing to abide by the request of The News to pay for what is accessed on the site, but it is a fact of life.
It will definitely be interesting to see how this all works out. When the dust settles, I hope The Hutchinson News is still standing and doing what it does best — reporting the news.