Other people, not least Jeff Jarvis and Alan Rusbridger, have said what I’m about to say better than me.
But as a person who “community manages” I’ve been thinking about this for a while.
Here’s a quote from a local councillor’s blog.
Why do local papers go to the trouble of producing a newspaper, then providing most of it for free in a way that for many people is also more convenient?
Perhaps to drive people to the website? but to what end? We are not going there and buying something (we are going there and NOT buying!) I am certainly not clicking on any money making links.
I cannot see any point in providing content for free on the site. Nor can other local newspapers, The Whitby Gazzette charges £5 for 3 months access to premium content. Thats not bad – I would pay that!
Some commentators say that it would alienate readers, but they are not paying readers!
That last sentence bothers me. It’s this growing tendency to punish online readers because we can’t figure out a way to make money from them.
People like me spend a lot of time trying to build and nourish online communities. And it’s pretty successful. All the online year-on-year figures I’ve seen suggest rises of between 40 and 70 per cent
And these aren’t like paper readers. They’re readers plus.
They talk to us. They correct our mistakes and they suggest questions for us to ask. They respond to our questions. They distribute our work for us, when they like and when they hate it. They tell their friends.
They’re our newsagents, our delivery drivers and our billboards. They create content for us, they help us answer complicated questions or sort through complicated data. They chat with us, they help us out when we don’t know what’s happening in a weather crisis or a police incident.
They make us part of their lives. They trust us to be fair, and if we haven’t been fair, they expect us to be honest about our mistakes. They don’t let us get away with being sloppy. They force us to be better at our jobs, to close the gap between them and us.
And no, they don’t pay. But since when did the cover price ever pay for newspapers’ journalism? In most places the cover price doesn’t even pay for the cost of printing, let alone the salaries of the people who write the news.
So to me, the concept that readers are to blame for the fact that online doesn’t make money is nonsense. And yet despite the months and years they’ve put in, and we’ve put in, creating an interesting and engaging online community, newspapers all over the country are choosing to punish them by installing paywalls for frequent visitors or holding content off the web.
But it’s not their fault our advertising strategies failed. It’s not their fault they don’t click the flash-heavy, irrelevant-to-them monstrosity for a dodgy sounding loan company or car dealer. It’s ours.
If you don’t sell advertising in the paper, you don’t blame the readers who borrowed their copy from a friend, or read it in the library, and you certainly don’t put the cover price up to compensate.
So why are we blaming our readers for our failure to recognise that print advertising strategies don’t work online?