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. identicon
    Watching Stupid, 15 Aug 2013 @ 1:32pm

    In my neck of the woods Rupert 'The Jackass' Murdoch and his minions have decided to put the free delivered community paper which ends up in the gutter more than in the homes of readers, behind a paywall. The decision to put it with the regional paper & some Fox Sports and then charge for it is pure Murdoch DNA (bundling stuff you want with stuff you don't). As there is no other local metro or state newspapers to keep them in check, Murdoch does what he likes and a big FU to the complainers. Heck they even had the cheek to say in full page ads that this is what we were asking for, WTF!
    Now it's not a total paywall, in that you can read 2 articles before being asked to pay for more views, however shutting the browser and using the antivirus etc program to clean the PC of all history allows you to go back for 2 more stories. Otherwise there wouldn't be anyone bothering to go to the site at all.
    Not that there is much in the way of meaningful exclusive content to view anyway, so I get most of my news from the evil (in Rupert's eyes) state sponsored sites such as the BBC instead.
    Expecting people to pay for content that can be found elsewhere depends on your customers being either incredibly stupid and/or lazy, and when the competition is only a mouse click away it doesn't take much to bypass the site entirely.
    One good thing to come out of all this is that the paid-for right wing drivel known as Opinion Pieces are being read by less and less viewers. Heck if I want to read political opinions from the left or right there are many sites all too willing to let me see it for free, otherwise how else will they get their points of view out to the wider world and get it changed for their benefit.

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