My buy-logical clock is ticking

Filed under: Opinion |

I’m tempted to insult those who read the CSBJ Daily or Web site but don’t pay for it, I’m tempted to label them with the disparaging term “freeloader.”

But if they deserve to be disparaged, what about me?

Yes, they’ve been reading the CSBJ for free for years, but the only reason they can do it is that I’ve been giving it away.

If they really are freeloaders, what does that make me?

Stupid, perhaps? But I’m wising up, along with the rest of the newspaper industry.

I’d like to think that newspaper people are pretty smart.

I’d like to think that newspaper reporting is essential to a thriving community, and like to think that it is as important today as it was when our nation’s forefathers decided to protect it under the Bill of Rights a couple hundred years ago.

So, why give away good journalism away for free?

Quality journalism comes at a cost. It’s expensive to produce a newspaper, reporting is time intensive, the creative talent needed is extensive, and the printing and ink are just plain expensive.

Figuring out how to financially support newspapers has always been difficult, and now that readers are migrating to the Web, it’s even more of a challenge.

Hey, I’m not blaming those who opted for the freebie. I’m the one who gave the paper away online, and if you took it, it was only because I invited you to.

I thought, along with most of the rest of the nation’s newspaper executives, that I needed to accumulate soaring numbers of page views on the CSBJ Web site so the advertising department could sell dazzling banner and medallion ads for a fraction of the price of traditional run-of-paper ads.

The Rocky Mountain News, the paper, you might recall, that folded last year after more than 100 years of publication, plunged headfirst into the online maelstrom equipping reporters with video cameras.

Last week, I attended the Alliance of Area Business Publications publishers conference in New Orleans. Business journal publishers had much discussion about the free versus paid online business model.

Sister papers to the CSBJ on Long Island and in New Orleans have locked down their very aggressive Web sites, allowing only paying subscribers to view and read content… and page views have not substantially dropped in those papers.

The New York Times is going to a paid online model, and the Wall Street Journal has had various paid areas for several years.

Thus far, big-time companies and firms are unwilling to pay print-advertising prices for similar ads on the Web, so those page views, while welcome, aren’t equating to big profits.

Less-sophisticated advertisers don’t always understand all that Internet lingo, and some of them don’t even have a Web presence.

There is no doubt that the future of newspapers must include the Internet but doggone it, people need to pay to get the valuable information newspapers provide.

You know that free CSBJ Daily e-mail that comes from the hardworking newsroom every business day? One business journal from another city will be charging for it. Three to five bucks a month will be the going rate for the daily e-mail; don’t pay it, and the information switch gets turned off.

Yes, in the not-too-distant future, CSBJ.com will be going to the paid online model. Good journalism can’t keep happening if there isn’t anyone to pay for it.

Some of you have noticed the CSBJ Insider section at CSBJ.com.

This is our first step toward a paid online model.

This section has premium content available only to paid subscribers.

Pay subscriber model media outlets should rally across the country and start locking down their Web sites.

Who’s with me?

Will well-heeled newspaper subscribers become part of the knowledgeable elite? Possibly, but I don’t care.

I am sure there are some that disagree. Subscribers and freeloaders alike can respond online at www.csbj.com. After all, it was my fault.

But if you are a freeloader, hurry. You may soon have to pay to comment.

Lon Matejczyk is the publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal.

3 Responses to My buy-logical clock is ticking

  1. I’m a freeloader!

    But let me explain why: because most content online *is* free. Therefore, anyone who wants to charge for their content better come up with some incredibly compelling value proposition. I can read blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google News, and a host of other sources of varied credibility and timeliness to get a level of knowledge on current events that seems to meet my needs. So far, the CSBJ online content has been a trusted part of that network but unfortunately, I can’t say I’d pay to keep it. I’d just go somewhere else.

    Lon, you said “the printing and ink are just plain expensive” but we’re talking about online content which doesn’t involve printing or ink. Yes, it takes time and quality reporters aren’t free by any means, but the news industry has been supported for so long by advertising and Google is making a killing on advertising alone that I’m surprised you can’t find a way to make it work without subscriptions!

    Maybe it’s just been my experience of having news free for so long that causes me to think it will continue that way forever and to balk at any service that charges for it. I think I’m fairly representative of the population though.

    Here’s what I think would happen if all the news outlets took a stand and “locked down their websites”: News would become a marketing strategy and every company would have a blog. If you wanted to find out about real estate in Colorado Springs you would visit a realtor’s website, for tax changes you would visit a CPA’s website, etc. All these blog aggregation sites and local business directories that have been springing up would become our news sources.

    Anon
    February 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm

  2. Couldn’t say it much better than the first commenter- Anon.
    You are free to charge to make your biz model work but I’ll be one that will look elsewhere for my (free)local biz news. Your potential subscriber model doesn’t work for me but that’s not to say it won’t work, just not for me.

    Anon's "friend"
    February 8, 2010 at 1:08 pm

  3. I disagree with the anonymous poster, and to a certain degree understand completely where Lon’s coming from. I’m also a freeloader, but that’s really just because I’d rather receive the CSBJ in digestible daily increments on my computer than in a bulky printed version that I’m not likely to sift through anyway. Besides, unless there are quality journalists posting investigative results about Colorado Springs on Facebook and Twitter, there isn’t as much of the type of information I like available on free non-local websites.

    The only catch is that I’d like to see the same amount or more of quality journalism. If we can get a lot more stories like the one about the city basing a $43 million spending decision on a non-existent report (http://csbj.com/2009/09/11/relying-on-blind-faith-instead-of-hard-data-no-way-to-run-city/), then I am more than happy to pay $5+ per month to pay for them. I wish that story were still on the front page until someone at the city answers for it, but CSBJ did a great job of calling them out on it.

    Andrew
    February 8, 2010 at 2:56 pm