The Columbia Journalism Review put together a great piece (or, perhaps, argument is the far better word in this case) this morning on paywalls, and whether they are worth the cost of "supposed" lost online ad revenues: Anti-paywall dead enders: Why worry about evidence when you can argue against straw men?
From Ryan Chittum's piece:
"You can advocate charging for digital subscriptions and still be digital first, so to speak. This is not about the smell of newsprint in the morning (If newspapers could transition everybody to tablets or whatever tomorrow, we’d be first to support it). It’s about supporting robust institutional journalism. If we thought free could do it, we’d be all about it. It’s had 15 years, and it can’t work."
Chittum cites several sources in his declaration, and common-sense dictates I shouldn't have to offer the several much-needed elements any news site should make sure to offer readers before going behind the paywall ... but I will, anyway.
-- The best source for local news. Sure, anyone can go to CNN for the latest on the Middle East, or analysis on the president's next term. But what about reaction to last night's Selectboard meeting? Or a profile on that retiring teacher? Or the latest on union negotiations at the area mental health facility? Chances are, your site is the only one covering these issues, in depth, with context and the value of the "brand" behind it.
-- A reason to view. Are you updating your site throughout the day with new and breaking news? Do you offer website exclusive content (like photo galleries and videos)?
-- Promote what you're doing. Are you making people aware of what you have to offer online, what makes it different from the daily paper (via house ads in the printed product, social media, etc.).
One more point from Chittum:
"Digital subscriptions are an incremental source of revenue at a time when newspapers are bleeding to death and digital ads are bringing in four bucks a CPM. They won’t succeed everywhere, particularly at newspapers that have gutted their newsrooms, and they’re not enough on their own to assure we have robust news coverage. But it’s money on the table that newspapers can’t reject hoping for some nebulous future “free” innovation, which not one of 1,500 American newspapers has yet to find in some 17 years of the Web era."
Plain and simple: We spend money generating content that shouldn't and can't be given away for free ....