The Record, Saratogian to get paywalls

record saratogian screengrabs

The Record and Saratogian will be getting paywalls for their websites, part of an "All-Access print-digital subscription initiative" by their parent company at 75 dailies across the country. John Paton -- the CEO of Digital First Media, which manages the company that owns the papers -- announced the plan in a blog post Monday. Saratogian managing editor Barbara Lombardo confirmed that both the Saratogian and the Record are part of the plan.

It's not really news that newspapers have been struggling to find their financial footing as the media world transitions from print to digital. And it sounds like DFM -- which pulled its papers through bankruptcy and has been attempting to aggressively restructure its business -- is making this move somewhat grudgingly. A clip from Paton's post:

After a lot research by our team, we believe an All-Access print-digital subscription initiative is necessary to buy us that proverbial gas in the tank [to make the transition].With the rise of digital and the fall of print, we're at the point where we can launch a working All-Access subscription model.
Let's be clear, paid digital subscriptions are not a long-term strategy. They don't transform anything; they tweak. At best, they are a short-term tactic. I have said that often enough in the past.
But it's a tactic that will help us now.

In the post, Paton says the configuration will be different in each market, and will include new offerings. Jonathan Cooper, a DFM VP, tells us in an email that timing and details for each market are still to come. (Here's the setup for its paper in Denver.)

In the Capital Region, the Daily Gazette has a paywall that restricts access to subscribers for all but a few stories and features. The Post-Star's paywall allows people to access 10 articles over the course of a month without paying, much in the same way the New York Times paywall operates. And the Albany Business Review restricts some of its content to subscribers.

After allowing free online access to their content for years, many newspapers have erected some sort of paywall during the last few years. Ken Doctor, who's well-known in the media industry for tracking "newsonomics," figures about 40 percent of US dailies now have have some sort of restricted access. A clip from Doctor's take on the DFM move:

Paton likes to call paywalls a "tactic" rather than a strategy. I'm not sure that's a meaningful distinction. Maybe "paywalls" are a tactic, but reader revenue is a strategy, and it's one that makes as much philosophical sense as financial. Who better to pay most of the salaries of journalists than the people they write for? Isn't that better than being largely beholden to more fickle commercial interests?
We come out of a world, in the U.S., where advertisers contributed 80% of the revenues and readers only 20%. By the end of this year, we'll be up to close to 30% reader revenue, both because of paywalls and greater ad decline. The New York Times is already at 56% reader revenue; it's crossed over, and it's not only. Strong dailies like the Star Tribune are in the mid-40s. Expect much of the industry to share similar economics by 2017.

One of the things that makes this strategy tricky in the Capital Region is the structure of the local media market. There's a varied mix of dailies, along with local TV news and a few online outlets, some of which overlap in places. And hovering above everyone is the Times Union, which despite its cutbacks over the last few years, still dwarfs every other outlet in the area in terms of coverage and reach -- and it offers pretty much everything online for free.

It'll be interesting to see how DFM plays the situation here. It could be hard to get people to pay as long as there is a substitute readily available for free. But, frankly, no one in the media has figured out the business side in the digital world, yet. So, who knows -- it could be worth a shot.

Earlier on AOA: How to use Capital Region news websites to read the news

Comments

So they (the owners of the Saratogian) mess with the print edition, launching a wave of negative comments, letters, "Sound Offs", etc. from their dwindling subscriber base. THEN they "refresh" their website, making it unreadable on a Smartphone and generally terrible. A consequence of the latter was a nuking of their RSS feeds (which are also pretty terrible at delivering anything other than AP News feeds), and now they implement a pay-wall? Are they trying to kill these papers?

To recap:
1) Pissed off traditional marketplace and consumers with print edition revamp
2) Pissed of more traditional digital readers with site redesign and bad RSS
3) Piss everyone off by locking their mediocre local content behind a paywall.

Makes perfect business sense to me!

Well said.

I live in Glens Falls, and used to read The Post-Star when it was free online. I can say that I haven't missed it ever since they went with the paywall as it really wasn't quality reporting. I also didn't end up moving to reading a different paper. I simply read the news less.

The Saratogian has even less interesting content and even worse reporting than The Post-Star ever has. What a joke. May The Saratogian either realize what a horrible mistake this will be, or fail.

Paywalls make sense, but only when you get what you are paying for. In the case of the Troy Record, that simply isn't so. The paper is a ghost of what it used to be, and not a particularly entertaining or informative ghost at that. In fact the Record has become so news-less that it borders on useless. If they allowed you 10 free stories a month it would be difficult to find 7 worth clicking on. Perhaps it should die, in which case putting up a paywall is just the way to kill it off once and for all. Their ad revenue will certainly drop as views plummet. Unfortunately it will probably never be replaced.

Even in this 'digital age', I think most newspapers are still prisoners of their past -- outdated business models, obsolete print traditions, and cluelessness regarding readability of their websites.

As long as they charge what it's worth, I don't have a problem with it.

At the same time bloggers can make a living delivering their content to readers for free.
Paywall guys are clearly heading in the wrong direction.

I'm a paying subscriber to the Gazette. I do so mostly because a.) I'm an unabashed news junkie and, b.) because I prefer to spend my money locally.

That said, my opinion of the Gazette online is similar to going to a local craft fair, expect the mediocre and occasionally be surprised. There's lots of text, lots. What one would think would be a great opportunity for vibrant photojournalism seems to be lost. Very Olde Schoole. A nice feature is that most articles allow for commenting at the end although that's predictably been taken over by a small battalion of very shouty Gadsden flag wavers. But ain't that America...

I guess I hold my strongest criticism for an apparent lack of cohoniness (can I say that?). Dear Jehoshaphat, this is Schenectady! This place needs some solid investigative journalism like ...well, like Carl Strock maybe. Oh well.

I like the NYT pay wall model. I doubt I'll read many stories from the Troy Record but the occasional read is nice to have especially when they have local stories. If the TU put up a similar pay wall for their blogs and articles I'd likely pay for a digital subscription.

Lu, there are very few bloggers who can make a living writing for free, and as I'm sure the folks here at AOA can attest, to do it you need to hoof it everyday. It's a grind.

As distasteful as we lovers of the free Internet may find them, it only makes sense for newspapers to give away a product it costs them a lot of money to produce so long as they can make up that revenue somewhere else, like, say, digital advertising.

But the economics of online ads have proved very different from what they were in print -- and not in a good way for newspapers. Them's the breaks, I guess.

I hate newspaper paywalls, but I'm not going to complain about them anymore than I would complain about Indian Ladder Farms not letting me walk out the door with a bag of free cider donuts.

Somebody's paying for it, even if it isn't you. Yet.

Lu, there are very few bloggers who can make a living writing for free, and as I'm sure the folks here at AOA can attest, to do it you need to hoof it everyday. It's a grind.

As distasteful as we lovers of the free Internet may find them, it only makes sense for newspapers to give away a product it costs them a lot of money to produce so long as they can make up that revenue somewhere else, like, say, digital advertising.

But the economics of online ads have proved very different from what they were in print -- and not in a good way for newspapers. Them's the breaks, I guess.

I hate newspaper paywalls, but I'm not going to complain about them anymore than I would complain about Indian Ladder Farms not letting me walk out the door with a bag of free cider donuts.

Somebody's paying for it, even if it isn't you. Yet.

Thanks for saying that Jordan. Those that are free bloggers often use or quote material of journalists that work for other news sources. I think the problem with some newspapers putting up pay walls is that they have let their content slide back so much due to cut backs that there is not much worth paying for anymore.

As several have alluded to, the problem with the Saratogian is that there is no content there worth paying for. Case in point was this week's coverage of the SAVE Saratoga (anti-casino) rally at City Hall that drew hundreds of people. The rally was Monday night and the story didn't appear in the paper or online until Wednesday. Plus, if you happen to be involved in anything the Saratogian covers you know that there are always serious errors in the reporting. And, yes the new website is unusable, with almost nothing in the way of local news.

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