The new, pay-to-read format at the Tallahassee Democrat, The Greenville News in South Carolina and The Spectrum of St. George, Utah tests the market for Gannett's plan for a "long-term strategy for paid content," according to Poynter.com's interview with a Gannett vice-president.
The besiged newspaper industry has dabbled with pay sites before, but none have met with much success. Internet users don't seem willing to pay for news, especially if the information can be found elsewhere without too much effort.
What is local news worth, really? No one knows, so the public isn't yet willing to part with their hard-earned cash as part of the experiment.
A look at the Greenville News site's article about Fourth of July fireworks brings some of the problems to light.
The News displays abstracts of its article to entice readers to click through the pay wall. Doing so requires Internet users to sign up for a $2 day pass fee, at the minimum, or $9.95 per month for access to the whole paper.
If you just wanted to view the fireworks article to learn the best place to park, there's no option to pay for just the one article (and no one really knows what such an article should be worth, either).
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Of course, the abstract may have told you all you want to know -- there's free parking down at the County Square. The same holds true for other stories listed on the Web site's home page. After reading the headline and the first two sentences of today's article about the screaming woman who stripped naked on Main Street, do you really need to know more? Possibly not. But if the newspapers provide no abstract or headline, how do you pull in online readers?
The end result will be too few online subscribers to counter the loss in overall exposure and "Internet presence," which helps drive print subscription sales and the less-lucrative, but still important online advertising.
Clearly, if this sort of thing worked, azcentral.com would already be charging for access. If that ever happens, feel free to click on over to Valley Fever.