Online Readers - Count us too!

I think this article published on Editor & Publisher hits the nail on the head when talking about newspaper readership. I’m perplexed why no one has really brought this up before, because it seems so simple.

I read the newspaper on line every day. I can click between The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and my small hometown newspaper with ease. Online I can see how different papers are covering the same story. Plus with my laptop the newspaper comes to me whenever I want it – I don’t have to go out of my way to pick up the paper or worry about people stealing my subscription on my doorstep. Plus it’s free. Free is good.

Reading the newspaper online also cuts down on the trash-factor. I haven’t seen a huge recycling surge in my neighborhood.

Just because I don’t BUY the paper doesn’t mean that I don’t read the news. I think the written word is live and well. I am confident that people are still reading the paper whether on the subway, on their work computer, or home in bed with their laptop.

Josh (not verified) @ November 30, 2005 - 12:07am

There are a couple of reasons, actually. One is precisely that you don't buy the paper. While the price of the paper doesn't fluctuate with the cost of newsprint -- although occasionally a paper will raise its price a quarter, it won't go up and down a dime at a time every three weeks or so -- that 50 cents to a dollar can be very important when multiplied by a few hundred thousand.

Another reason is that often, online publications are treated seperately for advertisers. I work for a web site that is associated with a newspaper. The same parent company owns us both, and the newspaper is our primary content provider (we also subscribe to AP, and get stories from a local TV station), but we have two entirely different business operations. The folks at the newspaper sell print ads, and the folks in our office sell online ads. Cross-sales are referred, but people at the paper don't directly sell the web site, and people at the web site don't directly sell the newspaper.

If newspapers are going to count online readers as subscribers, they're going to need to figure out how to do the subscription thing. The Journal does it really well -- has been making money since its inception -- but the new Times model is no good, and we haven't figured out a good micropay system yet.

While I'm not willing to drop $75 on a long-term subscription to read most papers online (though I am a subscriber), I'd certainly pay a quarter to read a day's edition (much the way I'd pay 50 cents for a paper copy but not necessarily subscribe). The only thing is, that's pretty expensive for the company, since the web site would have to accept a credit card, and may have to cough up something on the order of 15 cents per transaction, and by the time they pay someone to program, review and troubleshoot transactions, that dime overage turns into a loss.

The web went into wide release about 11 years ago, and it's still very much an immature industry. I work for one of the dinosaurs -- it's been around for nine years. That's still early growth in most industries, and no indication that it'll be around 20, 50 or 100 years. There's still a long way to go to determine what constitutes a "reader" (is someone who hits the web site 25 times a day to post on forums an advertising target? 25 advertising targets?), and plenty of planning to figure out how to make money online. Everyone knows thay need to be online for marketing's sake, but creating a profit-generating model is a different model altogether.

Ryan McConnell @ November 30, 2005 - 12:13pm

Hey Josh....I wonder why you characterize the new Times model (TimesSelect) as "no good"? This article shows that its been very successful in driving revenue so far. And, as much as I hate to admit it, after a week or so of going to Lexis/Nexis and circumventing the policy, I finally broke down and ordered home delivery (with TimesSelect included). I'll concede that it may limit their columnists' influence, but, with newspapers struggling to maintain their circulations these days, I'm sure that's a trade-off the Times' management will take.

Josh (not verified) @ December 1, 2005 - 8:35pm


There are a few reasons I think TimesSelect is a bad idea. For one, I would have to want to read every columnist, every day. And with enough of them being syndicated elsewhere (read: I can read them for free on a different site) and enough bloggers quoting the meat of stories, why bother dropping $50? That's buying the hard copy paper once a week in a store.

I would certainly be willing to subscribe to the paper to get the service, but unfortunately, I'm not in a big enough market for the Times to bother delivering to -- which makes me upset every time I have to yank a "Get home delivery of the Times!" card out of the paper. Cuz I can't.

135,000 subscribers to TimesSelect is laughable. The article you site notes that the Times' web site got 21.3 million unique visitors in September. If we assume that's more like 15 million because people are accessing the site from multiple IP addresses during the month, we're still talking less than 1% of visitors are subscribing to the service. If you were a business owner selling a new product to people you already knew used your current product, that's just a miserable turnaround. That's when you send out a press release saying you have 135,000 subscribers, describe it as a success, and hope someone falls for it. E&P did.

Clearly, $1.5 million in the coffers at the end of the years is nice any way you slice it, but there are much more profitable ways to make money on the web, even outside the advertising-only so many companies use (often poorly).

The other problem with TimesSelect is that for those of us who read the Times online because it's a good source of national and international news but only read columnists for the entertainment value (I can form my own opinions on news, thanks) simply stop reading the columnists (except for the syndicated ones we can read the next day on other papers' sites) and only usurp the free content.

I'm not sure my dream of micro-pay will ever be realized -- in much the same way I doubt I'll ever have a la carte cable service, even though I'd much prefer it to my rabbit ears, and would actually be willing to pay to receive a television signal if it existed. But I do believe that's what it's going to take to make the reader-driven revenue model a winner.

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melanie (not verified) @ December 31, 2005 - 5:35pm

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