Well, this might make life a little easier.
That was the first selfish thought that crossed my mind late Friday afternoon when the News & Observer in Raleigh posted a story online with this headline: “McClatchy to end unlimited access to web sites.”
I had to chuckle a little once I opened the file. Not only was the item posted late in the day on Friday during the rush to go home for the weekend — an old government / military trick — it buried the lead. Nowhere in the headline did it say News & Observer, newsandobserver.com or even the blast from the past, Nando.
The lead of the story was more clear but still backed into things a little. Here’s what it said:
“McClatchy Co. announced Friday that metered pay walls will be installed at the company’s newspaper web sites, including newsobserver.com and CharlotteObserver.com.”
While it’s clear and to the point, it’s also phrased very much as a message to the online audience that has come to rely on free and unfettered information via sites managed by the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. The indirect message is this: “Hey, it’s a corporate decision, we’re not doing this ourselves.”
And I understand why it was done that way.
I couple of weeks ago I posted an item here about plans by our company, Halifax Media, to install a paywall system for its 36 newspapers, including the Times-News. Our site, thetimesnews.com, likely won’t begin to charge until sometime next year and all the details aren’t known — but it’s coming.
And we’re not alone. Company executives estimate that by the end of this year, 38 percent of websites operated by newspapers will have a paywall of some kind. Some charge for specific content, others charge based on amount of use and others have an across-the-board subscriber fee. As the number of print customers has declined and web growth exploded, it was probably only a matter of time before newspapers began to look for ways to augment lost circulation revenue.
Still, people have been picking off free content via media web sites for so long, there are bound to be mini-uproars as the dominoes fall. And paywalls are controversial within our own industry. Digital Firsters strongly believe that newspapers have to be creative in finding ways to generate revenue online via advertising and other sources without charging for content, which they contend will ultimately kill audience numbers. They point to Facebook and Google as examples.
But publishers believe that giving away content online has only hastened the demise of print while also destroying a business foundation online that would ensure the future of reporting, photography and videography.
I understand both points of view.
What I do know is that while some web users won’t be surprised by the inevitable changes, others will be irritated beyond belief and will express themselves loudly.
But it’ll be far easier for newspapers like the Times-News to go to a paywall if our larger neighbors do so, too. Look for the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer to make the switch later this year.