I don't want to comment on the website design until I actually see it tomorrow. But, I can say that anything will be better than what is there now. The Monitor's site is very un-user friendly. Some of the things described by publisher Geordie Wilson are cool and, frankly, standard fare for major news websites at this point.
But, the pay wall thing? Well, it remains to be seen if it will work but it was bound to happen.
The industry trend has been that print subscriptions and sales at daily newspapers across the country have plummeted. In fact, the only one with increased circulation or growth at all in recent years has been the Wall Street Journal. The rest have seen huge declines with some cutting back to printing semi-daily, moving to web-online only, or going completely out of business.
There have been some interesting articles written about what is going on in the industry these days, including nonprofit and grant funded news operations, low-fi community start ups, and other things. There have even been a few new papers started up in the Granite State, which shows that print can still live on in the 21st Century.
But the daily newspapers are dying off, for many different reasons, including staffing costs, other online news options, and lack of time available to actually sit and read the newspaper. In many ways, dailies like the Monitor, which focus on community news and have no real competition, will survive, in some form.
However, there was a little line in Geordie Wilson's note to readers that really stood out:
The internet has been great for community newspapers like the Monitor in that we are now reaching more people than ever before. Our print paper is read by about 40,000 readers every day, by far the biggest audience in the capital region. Online, we serve about 15,000 unique readers a day.This strikes me as a little low. Sure, if you combine 40,000 to 15,000 to get 55,000, that is probably a larger audience than the Monitor has ever had. No question. But, I would have thought there would be more unique readers online each day than 15,000.
Second, as I wrote in 2008, there is the "readers" versus "actual copies sold" difference in circulation numbers. Newspapers are tending to go with "audience" sampling instead of actual copies distributed and sold because the latter's numbers are actually quite dismal these days. When using audience figures, the numbers are rosier.
Here is what I wrote almost exactly two years ago when the Monitor last made some changes: ["Monitor faces economic challenges"]:
According to Wilson, the Monitor has a circulation of just under 20,000 weekdays, and a little more than 22,000 on Sunday, based on calculations done in June 2007 by the Certified Audit of Circulations. This circulation includes Newspaper In Education sponsorships, as well as other programs, although Wilson noted in a recent email that more than 90 percent of the editions are paid copies.That was two years ago, using data from three years ago. Who knows what it is now. But, in using his figures, you can come up with a guesstimate based on previous information: If you use previous CAC calculations, which assumed 2.4 readers per edition sold, that would put the Monitor's circ these days at around 16,500 to 17,000.
If this is true, then this is very bad news. I mean, do the math: If you lose 3,500 subscriptions at $200 a year, that's $700,000. That's about what 28 reporter salaries would be.
This doesn't include lost advertising revenue due to advertisers seeing fewer eyeballs looking at the print edition. Since the bulk of revenue for most newspaper companies is the print edition, and fewer people are buying the print edition, the writing is on the wall.
And the Internet ads, as cool as they are, just aren't replacing the print ads as far as revenue. They are a fraction of the costs and, therefore, a fraction of the profit, although most newspaper companies - as well as radio companies - are seeing more growth in this sector (as an example, note all the Monitor web ads that don't advertise in the newspaper).
Will the pay wall succeed?
Will it work? Will it bring in more revenue? Will Monitor online readers pay for content? What will happen to those people who can't afford the Monitor but want local content? There are many, many questions and it will be interesting to see if the Monitor's pay wall efforts succeed where others have failed. It does, however, have possibilities.
First, charging for some paid content online could drive people back to the print edition. Sure, that's hopeful, but it could happen. The Monitor should also try starving web content. That is, not put everything online, even with the pay wall. Build value into the print edition and give people a reason to buy it all the time.
The time factor is one that should be analyzed. While it is fun to read comments and debate with people online, if you have the time to do that, you have the time to read the full edition of the newspaper.
The Monitor has been running specials in an effort to boost circulation. Last year, after letting the print edition subscription lapse for a couple of months, I resubscribed at a special price ($59 for six months, if I recall correctly), and was happy to do so. I don't mind spending a little money to keep the newspaper, but I won't spend $227 a year for it (I always rounded up the bill with a small tip ... hey, I used to peddle that paper; it's hard work and now, you have to pay for the gas)! It might be good to run the special all the time. Better to get $100 all the time than $225 some of the time, it would seem.
This year, when the bill came to renew and it was back up to the old price, I didn't renew. My decision was based on three factors: Time, money, and the overwhelming slant and lack of real investigation into the school consolidation project forward by the Concord School District.
The time issue was a big factor, even for this newspaper/news junkie. My wife noted, during the time period when I was considering renewing, that the Monitor editions sat at the table for days. Usually, I would catch up on them on Thursday or Sunday. And, because they are so thin, the reading was pretty light anyway. She also noted that she rarely read it at all. Hint, hint ...
On the money issue, well, we're all going through that. The Monitor just isn't worth that much a year. Few newspapers are. When I had the WSJ, I was happy to pay $99 for the year. But $150? Nope. They then dropped it down to $139.99. Sorry, no sale.
However, is the Monitor worth $100? Sure. But not much more in my mind. Not when they are giving it away for free online (not for long ...).
Then, there is the school consolidation issue, which I have written about previously here at OurConcord.com.
As the only real in-depth community news source, the Monitor really dropped the ball on this issue. I mean, come on, not a single sentence noting that the school district's own reports stated that the historic buildings were structurally sound. Yikes. I've written about other issues here online, so I'm not going to get into at length here.
Personally, as a journalist myself, I have no problem with editorial page biases. That's what the editorial page is all about. But when it clearly seeps into the news stories or, the news stories completely ignore all kinds of angles that challenge the editorial page views, well, that's a problem. And I'm just not going to support that with what limited money I have.
Some folks in town were also angered at how the newspaper treated me during the consolidation debate. When a Monitor reporter described me as "sashaying" around during a meeting about the school projects, a woman wrote to me and said she was surprised the Monitor published what she considered a gay slur (I'm not gay but I get her point). Another person said it was the first time in 50-plus years he had ever seen that word in a news story. Another older woman from the Heights called me personally to thank me for the efforts I made trying to save the historic schools, which was really nice.
I told folks at the time that it wasn't a big deal. When one challenges any kind of authority, they need to expect to take the hits too, even from reporters or the editors who oversee the reporters and may influence the content; even if you're right. It's just the way it is.
So, the question then becomes, will someone like me pay to read the content online? Doubtful. And it isn't that I don't see the value in paying for content online. Journalists have to eat too. I know that all too well. But, if I had the money, I'd pay for the print edition.
I think that when the Monitor implements this plan, they will see the unique viewers of the site dip. Those folks who can't afford the pay content - or the print edition - will live without it. Whether or not that will hurt the bottom line, I don't know. But it will be an interesting experiment.