It's not a paywall

A year ago I wrote a blog post titled Thinking about a paywall? Read this first. If you haven't read it, please do so now, as it's a prerequisite for this one.

Friday, the Augusta Chronicle announced that it's implementing a metered-access system using the Press+ system.

It works as I described, providing tools that let the publisher identify high-volume users and target them with a request that they pay something.

Let me explain what it is not.

It's not a paywall, as some have mischaracterized it.

It doesn't cut the site off from the Internet.

It doesn't interfere with social link sharing.

It doesn't discourage sampling. Casual users and new visitors won't even know that it's there.

It's not based on arrogant bellowing about how users "should" pay, or ridiculous claims that the free Internet is ending.

It's not doomed like the Times paywall.

It's not a feeble attempt to milk the cash cow dry.

And it's not driven by belief, but rather by some quantitative analysis leading to some projections that should be tested in the marketplace rather than debated by new-media pundits.

It also isn't perfect, being based on cookies, but it's good enough.

An advertising-only business model has a dangerous characteristic that any farmer would recognize: If conditions shift against it, you're screwed. That's clearly happened as the recession that began in 2007 drove the ad business into the ground.

Anyone who's been in the media business long enough eventually learns that some revenue streams are more affected by business cycles than others. Reader revenue is relatively less affected, and looking for ways to blend it into the mix is a healthy move. It's important to pursue other sources of revenue as well, and that's being done. Polycultures are inherently more stable.


Whew. My comment got too long so I made it a post. Synopsis: I'm all for this effort, but that alone isn't enough.

It is pretty darn hard to charge for content when there is so much of it free on the web. But for the non-content part, maybe. After all, people pay 3x to 5x for a beer in a bar compared to the home fridge. And CATV was invented to deliver free TV signals with the snow removed from the pix. In short, there has to be something more valuable than content or wallets will remain pocketed. Agusta may or maybe not be able to create an experience for smart phones, tablets and ordinary computer displays for which people will pay a monthly fee. Feeding them the same new content that will soon be in the paper is not such an experience as other papers have found. Murdoch's new try, The Dialy, on the iPad has a great chance to be a big winner. 99 cents a week for a great 10-minute experience every day is going to seem like a bargain and if he hits 5% of the 60 million iPad users by the end of 2011, as he hopes, that is a $150 million return on a $40 million annual cost. Makes old-school newspaper margins seem paper thin by comparison. I, for one, hope he knocks it out of the park, puts it through the uprights, or slaps it into the goal ... though it won't translate for Agusta. It will only prove that people will pay for great digital experiences reasponably priced--like movies, cable television, cell phones, iPads ... Oh, and apparently not even so reasonably priced :)

I know what you're saying about ad-based revenue isn't guaranteed. That's extremely true. However, ad-based revenue is growing, has been growing for years, and is extremely likely to grow for years to come. Anything less than 'free' for content will mean your audience isn't as big as the sites that give it all away. With online ads growing, a website that starts charging places itself in danger of falling to competitive forces.