YDR Insider

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Part II: Three months into paywall, reader complaints coming in at reduced trickle

Some folks write us with irritation about the green paywall, or online subscription screen, that pops up on ydr.com and our other sites.

That screen is keeping them from reading  something of intense interest, possibly even the rest of a story, since they had used up their five free monthly page views.

Others are polite and well intentioned.

Consider this message from a subscriber, a relative newcomer to York County:

“Today I tried to click on an article on your on-line edition and was told that, in order to view the article, I must spend a minimum of $5.99 to view articles.   Can you please tell me why, if I already subscribe to the paper edition, I have to pay more money to look at articles on-line?” (It’s actually $1.99 a month or $19.99 per year for subscribers.)”

At the three-month mark of the installation of the current version of online subscriptions, readers might be interested in the view of the paywall from someone who worked with one since August 2010 (when fewer stories and photos were placed behind it.)

Here are some arguments for one:

– The newspaper is one product, separate from ydr.com and our other websites – flipsidepa.com, yorkblog.com, inyork.com, gametimepa.com. There is some overlap in content, but the websites contain many, many stories, photos and graphics that do not appear in the newspaper. There is a substantial cost for producing this content and a paywall helps cover that.

Further, we follow the posting philosophy: “When we know it, you know it.” We’re constantly updating the site, and that takes resources over and above those required for the newspaper.

Two analogies may explain all this: When you receive your Comcast bill, your costs for  cable TV and Wi-Fi are separate. Two different products. Two costs.

The other example spawns from a complaint I received from a York Fair official, who questioned the charge for Web access. I reminded him that fair goers who plan to go to the Toby Keith concert must pay for parking and admission and food – and their concert ticket.

– We can see statistically where readers are clicking. And they’re increasingly getting their news on mobile devices – Smart phones and tablets. We do not charge for content on such devices, so the introduction of a paywall on our website gives readers an incentive to move that way. Mobile is an area of increasing interest to advertisers.

So, the argument goes like this: Charge for “legacy” products like the newspaper and the Web and maximize your audience growth in newer technology – mobile and tablets that are becoming desirable for advertisers.

– Another argument stems from a sense of fairness to customers of the newspaper. If they must pay for news, shouldn’t those who use the Web pay more? Our industry calls this “protecting print.”

– Lastly, online subscriptions do produce revenue needed to cover the costs of producers of this content. In three months, the grossed up revenue gained from subscriptions on our sites and those of our sister news organizations in Hanover, Lebanon and Chambersburg would about cover the salary of a reporter. At the same time, our site traffic nicely exceeds levels needed by advertisers to market their products.

You should know this online subscription here is an experiment, something we’re trying out. We’re not alone in this respect. The Baltimore Sun, Lancaster newspapers and the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal are charging for content as well.

As with all experiments, you learn things.

Next post, I’ll review the cons about paywalls, including, of course, the fact that they irritate – let’s say incense – some customers.

Meanwhile, feel free to comment below or contact me at jem@ydr.com or Managing Editor Randy Parker, rparker@ydr.com.

 Also of interest:

– Part I: Three months into paywall, reader complaints coming in at reduced trickle.

Part II: Three months into paywall …

– Part III: Three months into paywall …

– For more explanation about online subscriptions, visit:  http://media.ydr.com/onlinenews.

– For additional paywall posts including other interaction with readers, please see our online subscription page.