#MediaMonday – Arizona Republic launches new subscription model

I say it is about time!  I have thought for quite some time that the newspaper industry was way behind the rest of the media business…providing all that content for FREE.  What is up with that?
Sure, it may have come as a surprise to most people when the Arizona Republic announced it was going to start charging for its online content.  Why start charging for something that up until now had been available at no cost?  Besides the obvious reason that they can’t continue to give it away and still expect to produce a quality product, we should have no expectation that we can have the entire newspaper for free. My goodness, we’re paying for television, radio and virtually all magazines, so why not the daily newspaper, too.
But here’s the thing, for most of you, the content you read online will still be free.  Certain pages and material, including the home page, section fronts, obituaries, classified advertising and stories with a strong public-safety focus, will remain available. You’ll be able to view up to 20 articles per month at no charge.  Once you hit that limit, you’ll be required to subscribe to continuing clicking through articles.
If you are a current print subscriber, you get full access to the online site, just as you have now. You can also become an online subscriber-only for $10 per month.
I get asked the question all the time…do I think the paper will be extinct. And I enthusiastically say NO.  As long as people are born, get married and die, we’ll have a newspaper.  It is the record of a community.  But the newspaper business has to adopt a new business model.  What does it say about us if we are willing to plunk down $5 for a coffee each morning but not an additional 50 cents for the local newspaper?
Now, this doesn’t solve all the problems with the newspaper business.  Those of us that work in and around it all the time know that the financial challenges over the past few years have had a definite impact on the newspaper business.  Decrease in advertising dollars means less space for stories.  Less space for stories means less staff.  Less staff means less local news and less local news means, for a lot of people, why bother reading the paper.
I was meeting with a client of mine last week. Jerry Foster and I have great debates about a wide variety of topics.  This time we talked about this new subscription model and what he thought about it.  Jerry’s not so sure he’ll pay for the online version.  I asked him what it would take to get him to at least give it a try. Here’s what he said:

  • I need to know what’s going to be different now that you’re charging me for online content?  Will the online version look more like a newspaper?  Seems to me that with technology, you should be able to create your online version to look and “feel” like a paper, much like the book industry has. (Jerry, I saw this weekend that this is actually going to happen.)
  • Is the paper’s job to educate or inform?  Yes, it is important to hear about the latest celebrity scandal, but there are some real issues facing the country and our communities here in Arizona. How about making sure some of those topics get a little extra attention in the online version.  That would be worth paying for.
  • Give me something I can’t get any other way.  If the entire online version is just going to be the paper version online, I won’t bother.  But with the infinite nature of the online space, you should be able to provide me with something more.

Jerry makes some pretty good points.  And I agree with him. This is a tremendous opportunity for the Republic to take some calculated risks and try some new ways to deliver content.  They’ve got the backing of the Gannett brand, some amazing and talented writers, photographers and editors who I know can and do produce great work.  Let’s take this new model and really make it an example for the rest of the newspaper business. Let’s show the industry that here in Arizona, we value our newspaper and we want to keep it publishing every day.

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at Aug 27, 2012

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