Yet Another Newspaper Paywall Goes Bust: SF Chronicle Gives Up After Just Four Months

from the not-the-panacea-you've-been-expecting dept

I know that within newspaper circles it's become popular to claim that we've now entered the era of the paywall. Paywall supporters love to point to the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal -- along with claims from various paywall companies that more and more newspapers are moving over to such a model. However, we've been hearing plenty of stories suggesting that for most every newspaper that isn't a major national or international brand, the paywalls are looking like dismal failures. Very, very, very few (at times, shockingly few) people are signing up, and by setting up the paywall, they're actually losing a fair number of online visitors. This isn't a surprise. As we've been arguing for years, a paywall is the exact wrong strategy for most newspapers, since the real business they're in is building a community and then selling that community's attention. Yet, a paywall makes it much, much harder to build a community, first by putting up a tollbooth, and then making it nearly impossible for readers to share the news and bring others into that community.

So it should come as little surprise that the SF Chronicle here in San Francisco has apparently killed its paywall after just four months. The quickness with which it's been pulled certainly suggests that the number of signups was appallingly low and someone finally did the math and realized what a colossal disaster this was going to be. For your typical metro or regional newspaper, all a paywall really does is open up a huge market for online competitors. It looks like the Chronicle found that out the hard way.
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Filed Under: business models, newspapers, paywalls
Companies: sf chronicle

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  1. icon
    Todd Knarr (profile), 14 Aug 2013 @ 10:36pm


    Mostly the local papers would need to stop concentrating on reprinting the wire-service stories that readers can get from any of a hundred sources.

    For instance, the sexual-harassment accusations allegations against San Diego's mayor. You want to sell papers in San Diego, I'm sure there's plenty of dirt there on both sides. Filner himself strikes me as a used-car salesman, but a significant chunk of the support on the other side comes from his political opponents. And the real dirt's likely to turn up not from looking at lobbyists and campaign donations, but from finding out who they hang out with and what those people have to say about them. That's the kind of stuff the local reporters would be ideal for, something the wire services can't offer. Yet the local papers are content to reprint the same generic AP wire stories. And they wonder why nobody reads them.

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