I was sitting at a table on Tuesday during one of two back-to-back meetings. Coffee in one hand, pen in another and mind miles away on a beach somewhere on the North Carolina coast. The subject at the moment was about our website, namely ways to generate content users simply can’t live without.
Well, perhaps it’s not that drastic. Let’s just say we want to provide the kinds of interactive features, stories, videos and photos that people will be interested in enough to come back again and again. Perhaps they’ll even invest in a subscription online.
At this point, I had an epiphany. We didn’t have enough facts at our disposal to make an informed decision about any of this stuff. After all, I said, there is no website at the moment that I return to with any frequency — and absolutely no content short of iTunes that I pay for online.
Ad director Mike Little suggested conducting a quick survey among users at www.thetimesnews.com.
We immediately knew it had to happen.
So we’re asking for your advice, hopefully looking beyond what the little girl states repeatedly on those cute but damned effective AT&T commercials. Yes, we already know you want more.
Promotions director Michele Terry compiled a survey with a few points of potential interest listed for our online audience to evaluate — from least interested to most interested. But these items are mainly guesses compiled by a few of us in-house. Look at those as starting points. We also have areas on the survey for users to write their own ideas for cool or useful items that could be future fixtures on our site.
That’s what I’m most interested in seeing — what users actually want or might find helpful. Look for it on Sunday at http://timesnewshosting.com/sections/WeWantToKnow/. People who participate will be in the hunt for a few prizes, including a top gift of a $100 gift card.
Why are we doing this? Well, it’s no secret that newspapers around the nation are going to what we call “paywalls” in our industry. That’s a system in which newspapers charge for content on their websites. All are created with certain variations. The New York Times, for example, allows a certain amount of web visits at no charge. When that maximum is reached, users are shut off until they pay for some level of service sectioned off by day, week, month or year.
Dozens of newspapers around the nation already have paywall formats of some kind, including the nearby Greensboro News & Record and Raleigh News & Observer. Next week, the Washington Post will roll out its paywall.
Our owners, Halifax Media, said last year that paywalls would be coming to its 30-plus newspapers in 2013. Some of our sister publications in Spartanburg, S.C. and Wilmington, have already done so. We will be following suit sometime in the early fall or slightly later. At this point, I’m not sure what the launch date might be.
Also at the moment, we aren’t sure exactly how our pay system will be constructed. What we do know is that our content has to be very good in order to draw paying customers and keep them coming back again and again.
Like I said, we already know we need to offer more. But what do users want more of?
That’s the $100 question.