Journal Pay Wall Is Paying Off – for Competition, Industry Publication Says

December 1st, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

While other legacy media spent the last decade working to lure visitors to their Web sites, New Mexico’s biggest newspaper tried to shoo them away.

Not that the Albuquerque Journal didn’t want readers — it just wasn’t particularly interested in having them do their reading online . . .

So begins a feature on NetNewsCheck.com, an industry publication that covers “The Business of Online Media,” quoting Todd Winge, a lecturer at the University of New Mexico’s department of communication and journalism and a former online producer at the Journal.

The story, “Paper’s Paywall Proves Boon for Competition,” which first appeared Oct. 12, makes the point that in charging viewers to access its own site, visits to sites run by Albuquerque’s city’s three television stations soared.

But as is pointed out by some of those who commented on the story, the television stations derive no income from site visits, except as it translates into advertising rates, whereas the Journal has both advertisers and subscribers paying to read online.

As 2012 approaches, it seems appropriate to comment on the leaps the Journal took this year in terms of its electronic delivery options. The NetNewsCheck story does back up its headline premise, providing quotes from Albuquerque-area TV stations about their surging visitor numbers. But it also offers some insight into the history and evolution of the Journal website, which, as one who uses the site frequently, I can attest has greatly improved.

A quote from Donn Friedman, the paper’s assistant managing editor for technology, production and new media innovations, explains the mentality behind trying to shoo visitors away from the Web site when ABQJournal.com first launched as a free site in 1995:

“The Web site was designed in a way to try to get people to buy the print product and stay away from the website.”

Friedman went on to explain that within six years of the free launch, the Lang family (owners of the paper) decided that model wasn’t generating enough advertising revenue to be workable. The story continues:

So in 2001, most of the site’s content went behind a paywall. Since then, it has been completely free only to those with a print subscription, (Friedman) said.

The words Friedman uses to explain the strategy speaks volumes: “Our customers who pay us shouldn’t subsidize people who want to freeload.”

Since 2001, the biggest changes to occur at ABQJournal.com were instituted this year. On June 26, the Journal announced on the front page of its print edition its “New and Improved” website (for which, I could not find a link); on Sept. 18, it announced the launch of its iPad App, in addition to electronic delivery by iPhone and laptop.

How it got to these points is explained in the industry story:

NewspaperDirect of Canada helped the Journal roll out an iPad app in September.

The paper hired the top student from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University to work on this summer’s redesign. Now, the site has more logical categories, a greater focus on breaking news — and it’s easier for producers to post content to, Friedman said. Photo galleries were added, he said. “And it looks prettier.”

The industry story also reported something I hadn’t realized before reading it, which is that the site also changed its subscription “formula”:

Before, only those with 7-day print subscriptions got free access — and even they had to pay extra to use the archives, e-edition and iPhone app, (Friedman) said.

Now, any subscriber to print gets free access to all those things, he said. “If you pay us in any way, you have access to all our products — both print and online.”

For those who don’t want the paper, there are Web-only subscription offerings, but they cost almost as much as a print subscription, he said.

In fact, a one-day Web subscription costs more (99 cents) than the daily print edition (50 cents), Friedman pointed out.

Still, the paywall isn’t like the Berlin Wall. Breaking local news and wire copy can be read at no charge, Friedman said, and those willing to first watch a featured (read premium rate) ad gain access until they close their browser.

I can attest first-hand that some of the website changes are indeed an improvement. Searched stories tend to pop up more quickly than they did on the site’s clunky and cluttered earlier site, and I appreciate that links to related stories may now be found at the end of many (not all) news items.

NetNewsCheck’s story attributes an interesting quote to Friedman, saying he “described the paper as ’kind of anti-innovative’ when it comes to its website and apps,” despite this year’s innovations.

There’s also an interesting typo in the story, when, in talking about mobile apps it compares a Journal usage increase to that of KOB-TV, saying:

ABQTribune (sic) saw only a small increase in mobile from a year ago, according to Friedman. But KOB’s mobile traffic was up about 50%, (KOB digital media director Kurt) Christopher said.

The story says ABQJournal.com attracts more than 25 percent of the Albuquerque market’s adults in a given month, according to a Media Audit survey from last fall.

But it says the KOB-TV site actually dominates the market.

The newspaper’s paywall was a godsend … for TV, (Christopher) said. “Our traffic just boosted instantly.”

The Audit numbers rank KOB.com as Albuquerque’s most visited television Web site, visited by 23% of adults in the market.

And, despite the Audit rankings, KOB’s traffic also beats the Journal’s, Christopher said. KOB.com registers 4 million to 4.5 million monthly page views, he said. Meanwhile, the Journal’s monthly page views come in at about 4 million, according to Friedman.

With charts and numbers, it’s an interesting read.

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