Telegram.com takes the paid-content plunge

The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester began charging for online content today. It’s a move widely seen as a test run for the New York Times, which plans to start charging for Web access next year, and whose parent company also owns the T&G (as well as the Boston Globe).

The T&G model, explained in a memo from publisher Bruce Gaultney and editor Leah Lamson, is fairly complex, as the Times model reportedly will be. Here are the basics:

  • Print subscribers will have full access to Telegram.com for no additional charge.
  • Non-subscribers will be able to access up to 10 local stories per month without paying. But they will have to register.
  • Non-subscribers who wish to access more than 10 local stories will have to pay $14.95 per month or $1 for a day pass.
  • Some Web content will remain free, including breaking-news stories.

Will the plan succeed? It depends on your definition of success. It may bolster print circulation, or at least slow its decline. The tiered pricing system is clearly aimed at non-subscribers who make heavy use of the website. Anyone who’s thinking about dropping his print subscription will now have a good reason not to do so.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the T&G’s Monday-through-Friday circulation is about 70,000, and 81,000 buy the Sunday paper. Among other things, charging for Web access will allow management to count paying online readers in those numbers.

On the other hand, I doubt many people are going to fork over $14.95 a month to read Telegram.com without getting the paper. Even if the move bolsters the Telegram’s bottom line, the danger is that the website will wither. (According to Compete.com, the T&G’s website draws about 275,000 unique visitors each month. The T&G claims about 800,000. Measuring online traffic is notoriously difficult.)

I also don’t see how this amounts to a test run for the Times — the papers are too different. The T&G’s readership is almost entirely local, and I can’t imagine its website has ever been a major priority. The Times is a national paper whose website, NYTimes.com, with nearly 20 million unique vistors per month, is the most widely read newspaper.com in the country.

Yet the T&G may be better positioned to get away with this than the Times, which has any number of competitors for national and international news. There is little competition for news in Worcester and the surrounding area — although this does present an opportunity for an existing news organization to beef up its own free website.

Based on a sampling of the more than 300 comments to Gaultney and Lamson’s memo, it doesn’t seem that the T&G’s announcement has been well-received. Yet that’s a self-selecting group. I did like the comment from the reader who buys a copy on his way to work every morning and thus won’t get free Web access. Management needs to think about how to take care of good customers like him.

My prediction is that the move will be of limited benefit, but that it won’t look that way. Very few people will sign up for Web access, and print circulation will continue to decline — but the drop in print would be worse if the T&G hadn’t made this move.

Note: I spoke with WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) this morning about the T&G’s move. I’m not sure whether it made it on to the newscast, and it doesn’t seem to have been posted online yet.

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23 thoughts on “Telegram.com takes the paid-content plunge

  1. Laurence Kranich

    The T&G tried charging for online content a few years ago. That didn’t last long and they soon went back to offering everything for free online. They were charging less back then too. I wonder why they think this will work any better?

    Also, I see they are offering an electronic edition of the daily paper from Newsstand.com for $7 a month or $70 a year, less than half their website access. What do you get for a website subscription at twice the price? Access to a bunch of rude comments?

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Laurence: A lot of papers experimented with paid content at one time. The thinking is that systems for charging are much more sophisticated now, so there’s a chance they will succeed where they didn’t in the past. Newsstand is PDF delivery — unreadable. What the T&G ought to do is come out with a Reader edition like the Globe and the Times.

  2. Daniel King

    You have to be the biggest Obama’s Ass-Kisser around – as your pathetic comment of …

    “With the exception of a government-provided security detail, the trip (Michelle the ‘Wookie’ to Spain) is costing the taxpayers nothing.”

    Really EXPOSES you for the ‘Card-Carrying Democrat’ & BIASED Clown you are !!!

  3. Jenn Paluzzu

    Little competition for news in Worcester? Yeah. Surrounding towns? They were barely covering them in the first place — which is why it has been so easy for CentralMassNews.com to expand. In every single one of our towns, people are telling my reporters how seldom the T&G even bothers to show up.

    By the way, Dan, we launched TheDailyNorthborough.com today — that’s town #9!

  4. Neil Sagan

    @Daniel King of http://www.ak47world.com/

    Just as Obama re-affirmed the 1st amendment rights of freedom of religion and freedom of the press for all Americans, he will soon re-affirm our 2nd amendment rights including to those unjustly deprived of their right to bear assault weapons – which we need as Sharon Angel reminded us – to take our government back from those who would rule having been elected by a majority. Peace brother… “From my cold, dead hands!”

  5. BP Myers

    I always thought Obama’s “association” with Bill Ayers should’ve been catnip to second amendment types. In a saner world, Ayers would be their hero.

    Didn’t Ayers take upon himself a “second amendment solution” to an unresposive government?

    Don’t second amendment types believe that’s EXACTLY why the founding fathers put it there?

    Or are they just hypocrites?

    It’s quite vexing.

  6. Daniel King

    And pity on Dumb Democrats who FAIL to realize the 2nd Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with ‘hunting’ – as U.S. v Miller (1939) and other Supreme Court Decisions firmly STATE that the ONLY Weapons protected by the 2nd Amendment are ‘Militia Weapons’ (i.e. Assault Weapons) !!!

  7. Laurence Kranich

    None of this has anything to do with the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Maybe Mr. AK-47 King shoots first, and looks at where he’s firing later, if at all.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Laurence: You are correct, sir. And I just killed two more comments on the subject. I didn’t even need a gun to do it.

  8. Daniel King

    I don’t need a gun to make my point either Mr. Kennedy – but our founding fathers DID put the 2nd Amendment into our Constitution for a very good REASON – to protect ALL of our other rights!

    And Laurence, I was forced to use this forum because Mr. Kennedy in true Democratic Party fashion – closed off comments on Michelle Obama’s lavish waste of taxpayer dollars in his other blog – so as to downplay another one of the Obama’s now weekly vacations – when so many Americans struggle during these tough economic times – only worsened by Obama’s idiotic policies!

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Daniel: I haven’t closed off comments to anything. Why are you claiming otherwise? Just making it up, eh?

  9. Daniel King

    Making it up – hardly, as your story defending Michelle Obama’s wasteful trip to Spain clearly says ‘Comments are Closed’ (to the General public) – but not to you!

    And please tell others here how your Democratic Party fear of my pointing out how Obama’s employing Cloward-Pivens schemes for Civil Unrest – just had to be CENSORED by YOU, Mr. Kennedy?

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Daniel: LOL! You’re talking about the Guardian site. Do you think I have anything to do with closing off comments for one of the largest newspapers in the world? The Guardian, like many news sites, closes off comments as a matter of policy after a certain period of time — 48 hours or something.

  10. Neil Sagan

    @Daniel King Your contempt for liberals is matched only by your passion for our constitutional rights. Peace brother. It was the mid 1700s and colonists were subject to having their homes rifled for rifles by redcoats, ya dig? So they wanted to be able to protect themselves from government and so the constituted their own government and required it to get warrants for probable cause, and allow weapons for self-defense. I dare say, defending yourself from the government with a weapon is likely a Pyrrhic victory. The first they’ll do is point their weapons at you and demand you put yours down. I think you know what happens if you choose option B, Nonetheless, that same government, usually the judicial branch, will re-affirm your right to be armed (subject to license requirements by the state.)

    @BP Myers Ayers is woefully misunderstood by strict Libertarian Constitutionalists who have a endearing relationship with the 2nd amendment. It is, in my opinion, a cultural condition I hope to remediate. Peace brother.

    @Dan “Very few people will sign up for Web access, and print circulation will continue to decline — but the drop in print would be worse if the T&G hadn’t made this move.”
    I have to agree, it’s a defensive pay wall.

  11. Andy Koppel

    Wow! I thought this was about paid content on the web. Excuse me if I return to the subject at hand and offer a contrarian view.

    I am a 7-day per week subscriber to the NYT and, as such I assume, was invited to participate in an extensive survey of my willingness to pay for on-line web content. The survey offered many variations of subscription and non-subscription models, including print, phone, iPad, and eReader.

    What I emphasized in my responses was that I do not view news content as an interchangeable commodity. The Times offers more news, more international and national coverage, and better arts coverage than any other paper I have read. I would be decidedly unhappy to lose it or to see it diminished, and am more than willing to pay for the privilege in order to keep it at its high level.

    I know this is not a popular view these days, but I remain stunned by the entitled notion that such content, expensively generated, should not be paid for.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Andy: I did the same survey, and I was amazed that there was no mention of Times Reader. We subscribe to the Sunday Times and use Times Reader the rest of the week. I did tell them that the Times was one of the very few news sources for which I would be willing to pay no matter what, although of course if they try charging too much, I’ll have to switch to free sources, inferior though they may be.

      It was never unreasonable to think advertising could pay for free news content online, even very high quality content. We’ve never paid for the news. We used to pay for paper and delivery. Now we pay for computers and broadband. What no one anticipated was the collapse of the advertising market, especially classifieds.

  12. Aaron Read

    We’ve never paid for the news. We used to pay for paper and delivery. Now we pay for computers and broadband.

    I know you’ve beat this particular drum a few times in the past, Dan. But frankly I’m amazed that it hasn’t gotten more attention – it’s fundamental aspect of why paying for content on the web is a very difficult thing to have succeed.

  13. Cosmo Macero Jr.

    Dan:

    For the newsstand buyer, who is indeed a loyal customer choosing to buy the paper at least a couple of times weekly, how about a unique code printed in each edition that allows for a single day pass to the Web version(a $1 value.)? Make the code good for 7 days so the reader is more likely to engage in the offer.

    That way you are rewarding the customer while also encouraging them to continue their regular purchase of the print edition, and at the same time introducing them to the Web version of the paper as a reading experience worth a monetary commitment.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Cosmo: The guy who made that comment actually offered that as an idea. Great minds think alike, obviously. But … I’m not sure how desperate people are to read the T&G online without paying, but I can picture someone setting up an anonymous blog and posting that day’s code early in the morning.

  14. George F. Snell III

    It’s a bold move by the T&G – my former employer (I was a reporter there for almost 10 years). When I departed the daily circulation was about 117,000 – so it has really gone down in the last 10 years.

    I think they went too aggressive on the monthly price point. Why not a more modest $9.99? $14.95 just sounds too expensive for the average reader. I also think they should have positioned it as joining a community – rather than just a pay-for-play. Perhaps offered specials in coupons and partnered with local businesses for giveaways, sneak peaks, etc.

    It will be interesting to watch.

  15. Rich Bergeron

    I used to work as a reporter and photographer for a little paper up north in New Hampshire called The Laconia Citizen. While I was there I kept getting front page pictures with my little sister’s $20 digital camera. After a while as I upgraded and continued to show my bosses the advantage of digital footage, they canned the old 35mm rigs and gave the photogs and the reporters access to top of the line digital cameras with video capability. I practically begged the company brass to look into making these digital cams pay off by asking reporters and photographers to get video footage and take extra pictures to be placed in a bonus or “insider” section akin to ESPN’s site at the time, which really is the best I’ve ever seen at charging for content. THIS WAS 2004 before the second Internet boom that didn’t go bust. The paper didn’t listen and still isn’t listening, and they have one of the best URLs in the country: http://www.citizen.com. I went independent a year later and now I have a dozen Web-sites. On my last trip to NH I heard the Citizen was bought out by a big conglomerate. Maybe now they’ll change, maybe not. Either way newspapers will die if they don’t embrace this pay for play way of life.

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