Since at least 1996, I have been reading news sources online, usually the New York Times for general news and the Post-Gazette for Pittsburgh-related news (especially for Pittsburgh sports coverage, which wasn’t easy to get in Texas). In a span of 14 years, I’ve spent countless hours reading content online (either through a standard browser or my Blackberry), giving only my passive attention to ads. In that time, I can likely count on two hands the number of times I’ve purchased a newspaper, usually because a friend was in it or there was a major event that warranted saving the print edition. The stats — 14 years and 10 papers. In other words, I’m exactly the example of why there are so many challenges in the newspaper industry.
As a member of the painfully masochistic group known as Pirates fans, I read the various articles about the team published in the Post-Gazette. I’m a particular fan of Dejan Kovacevic, the Penguins-turned-Pirates beat writer for the P-G, and I enjoyed his PBC Blog when it was hosted at the main site. I was also thankful that his blog remained membership-free even as other blogs and sports insights moved to the recently-launched PG+, a paid ($3.99/mo) site that has more in-depth coverage and interactive conversation than the main newspaper. However, I knew it was only a matter of time that his daily insights would be moved behind the firewall and I’d likely limit my reading to what information was freely available.
The announcement that the blog would be moved to PG+ was made in April and finalized in early May. In the process, something made me decide to give the paid site a shot, so I ponied up the $3.99 to test it out for the month. Not only have I read Dejan’s work, but the other blogs that run the gamut from sports to local politics as well. I’ve found value in it and will likely subscribe for the year ($2.99 if you pre-pay for 12 months).
From my experience, the so-called ‘freemium’ model seems to be working for the P-G. Why? Because there’s genuine value to the experience. While superficial sports coverage and local news can be had easily and for free, the type of in-depth information that their paid site provides is well-worth the $4/month. In addition, I’m beginning to feel a sense of responsibility to the newspaper industry — like public radio, I know that these media are needed in a strong, well-informed democratic society (an interesting article suggested anecdotal evidence that the decline of the newspaper industry is having some impact on campaigns). While I think as much information as possible should be free, I have come to terms with the fact that I need to contribute my share.
Like my earlier “buy me a beer” post, the $4 seems like a bargain for the type of information I get. So, will premium save print? Is there enough truly premium content out there for newspapers to get people to buy? At what point does the industry go the Detroit Free Press route and focus more on their online presence than their print edition? And, based upon the low tolerance for paid information online, what price makes it profitable enough for newspapers to give us the kind of important information we need?