Online newspapers use paywalls to stay profitable - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Online newspapers use paywalls to stay profitable

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Fresh layoffs are looming at newspapers in Rochester and around the country, and change is in the wind as newspapers and journalists alike try to survive the digital platform shakeout.

Many people who once bought a daily newspaper now jump online to read their news -- sometimes seeking out a newspaper's own website to avoid paying for it.

The Post-Bulletin is closing its Austin Newsroom and consolidating in Rochester. It's just one example of a news organization changing the way it operates to keep up with a media world in constant flux.

Over the past few years, the newspaper industry has been struggling to find a way to stay profitable and relevant in an all-free, online media landscape, and they're changing the way you pay for news.

From the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to the Post-Bulletin and the Winona Daily News, online newspapers are instituting ways to try to make you pay.

"Here you are putting all the content you spent all that time and money to put in the print product online for free. Is that a good business model? Not really," said Randy Chapman, the publisher of the Post-Bulletin. 

The most common way is put up a paywall where you can only read a few sentences of a story before you need to pay, or they use a system of metered reading, where you can read a specific number of stories -- usually between 15 and 20 a month -- before you have to pony up for an online subscription.

That's what the Post-Bulletin does. If you get the paper subscription, you can read online for free, but if you don't, you get 15 stories a month before you have to pay for the cheaper online subscription.

"We have high duplicate readership. We have somewhere around 15 to 20 percent of our print subscribers also read us online," Chapman said.

So, how can a paywall help finance a newspaper? National papers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal sell Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting, and they have massive online staffs that put together comprehensive multimedia content. The local guys? They're selling just that -- local news.

"You can't get the local news unless you go to the source...which is usually the community newspaper," Chapman said.

But is the paywall here to stay? Some media experts are skeptical.

"I'd like to believe that the content we produce is so valuable that people will pay for it, but I'm just not sure I believe it," said Tom Grier, a journalism professor at Winona State University.

As online news organizations get better at selling online advertising, it's possible that paywalls could disappear just as quickly as they sprang up.

"I think media outlets are going to figure out that the main source of their income is the same that it's always been, which is advertising," Grier said.

No one really knows how many newspaper people have lost their jobs in the past five years across the U.S.

Newspapers have tried paywalls, producing video -- even making readers take surveys to read articles -- anything to get through this, and we simply don't know where it's all going.

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