Gannett Co. Inc. (GCI), the largest newspaper publisher in the US, announced today they plan to begin charging visitors for access to their web content. While no timeframe was established, the company forecasts the subscription model to contribute $100,000,000 to earnings beginning in 2013.
[DISCLAIMER] I am a former Gannett employee, having worked in the digital marketing department of the Burlington Free Press in Vermont. I enjoyed my time there and continue to highly respect my direct report and the former publisher of the paper, Brad Robertson, who I worked with during my tenure (Brad is now the President of GannettLocal).
Is this a smart move?
It would seem to be the only move, since falling advertising revenues from print subscribers and advertisers have shaken up the business model to its core. Jeff Jarvis, a respected member of the print-turned-digital community, even blogs on his site BuzzMachine that he advises his entrepreneur students at SUNY not to consider starting a publication that relies on charity or non-profit donations in any way.
In other words, you have to be able to turn a profit independent of foundations or grants and live or die by the free market economy.
How Much Would You Pay to Read an AP Article?
My in-laws still read the paper religiously every morning with their coffee. When I worked for the paper I’d check it out too, but (yeah this sounds wimpy, sue me) I hate getting ink on my fingers and the iPhone — my third? — makes it easier to aggregate lots of news without needing to get out of bed.
I do read the Burlington Free Press site sometimes, but often there is just too much recycled content from the AP or USA Today for me to get interested in a long term commitment such as a subscription.
The image to the right highlights this concern: The online business section of my local daily features one story written by a hometown author and three AP or USA Today features. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just fact.
Let’s not dog the local papers. I haven’t even ponied up for the New York Times yet, and I used to read that paper every single day. Whenever I reach the limit of articles I am allowed, it seems like I change devices and the limit disappears. Also, I just visit the site far more infrequently.
How about you? What changes have you made to your web consumption now that publications are charging for access?
The Wall Street Journal is another major player that’s put up a velvet rope limiting what you can read for free. And I don’t blame them! I think you should have to pay for content. Let me make that point abundantly clear:
News organizations like Gannett should NOT give away valuable content for free!
What Constitutes Value?
Ah, there’s the rub. If you should endeavor to make a profit sharing content, what type of content should you share?
For my in-laws, they’ll likely be grandfathered into the website because of their paper subscription. Maybe Gannett will adopt a Netflix approach and offer paper/web and a web-only version (likely) or even a tiered pricing model. That’s cool, but it’s not enough to inspire me.
I would pay for content that changes my life. I do pay for the Harvard Business Review and lynda.com tutorials. If Gannett promised me interactive learning/workshops featuring a Harvard Business School Professor, I’d sign up in a New York minute.
Gannett, if you want to know how to get people like me — 30 year old techies who love to read and share — focus on sharing knowledge in multiple formats (i.e. Google Hangouts, etc) that are relevant to learning new skills, not just consuming information.
But that’s just me.
I’m writing this post from the Delta Terminal of Detroit Metro Airport and my flight is boarding. Gotta jet back home to Burlington!