Sunday, May 27, 2012

Local Paper Charging for Access

Every once in a while I like to tilt at a few windmills.  Sometimes I rant about the futility of Daylight Saving Time, sometimes about how I’m the only person who knows how to drive, and sometimes about politics. 

Today I’d like to surprise you with a new rant.  One that even surprised me.

I live in the thriving metropolis of Lafayette, IN.  To you it may not be much but to me it has been home for over 3 decades.  While not an exciting or sexy place, it is home and it is a solid, stable, great place to live.

While not being a huge town we are big enough to have our own TV station and our own newspaper, the Lafayette Journal and Courier.  The J&C as we call it is owned by Gannett, the same folks that bring you the USA Today.

Over the years, Lafayette has been the test market for several new Gannett products.  For instance, our paper was one of the first to change its form factor to a different, smaller, more compact size that travels and reads better.  I found this to be a great change but one that I wouldn’t take advantage of because I read the paper electronically on any number of my pieces of glass.

Their latest change is my latest obsession.  The J&C website, http://jconline.com used to be free.  Now it is only free for a limited time and then in order to consume any content you have to pay to access the site.  I know some folks who work at the paper and they tell me that Gannett is testing this out for expansion to all of their other newspaper markets by the end of the year. 

The local TV station has seized upon the irony of this and they are now running ads saying their website is “Always Connected, Always Mobile, and Always Free.”  Nice.

According to Wikipedia, “In February 2012, Gannett announced a new policy use of the Internet content provided by its newspapers.  By the end of 2012, non-subscriber access will be limited to between five and fifteen articles per month, varying by newspaper.  The USA Today website will be the only one continuing to allow unrestricted access.  Similar restrictions have previously been implemented by other major publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.”

Newspapers are struggling to stay relevant in a world of glass and I fully understand their argument that you aren’t paying for how you get their content (web or paper) but for the content itself.  I get that, the bigger issue though is how long can they stay relevant in a world of free news sites including our local TV station, CNN, and other news outlets that provide full access for free.  Competition from changes in technology is the biggest threat here, and they are not adapting quick enough to survive.