By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Not as retro as I had feared

Interesting to note that Joel Kramer, editor of the community Web site MinnPost, is also thinking about premium pricing for the print editions of newspapers. Here’s what he writes at the New York Times’ blog Room for Debate:

I do think there is a strategy that might keep a high-quality regional newspaper modestly profitable in the future: Rely much more on revenue from readers. Publish a newspaper worth $2 a day, the price of a cup of coffee, and $5 on Sunday. Raise the quality. Make it more in-depth, more analytical, to complement the immediacy of your free Web site, and do not make that deeper, more insightful coverage available for free on the web. Perhaps make the printed product a tailored mix of sections that appeal to different readers: For $2, you get to pick, say, four sections out of six.

Obviously, circulation would drop. A newspaper that sold 400,000 copies at 50 cents daily and $1.25 on Sunday might sell only 100,000 at four times the price. But there would be a business incentive to keep quality high, because each extra copy sold should increase profit, not subtract from it.

He adds: “I think it has a better chance than going Web-only and charging for the content.” I agree. On Thursday, I floated a similar idea.

Question: If the Boston Globe (or any major metro) raised its prices to $2 on weekdays and $5 on Sundays, what sorts of print-only content would induce you to pay for it rather than simply reading it online? What other services should it make available to paying subscribers?

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  1. Andy

    If the New York Times published its Frank Rich restaurant critiques only in the print edition, I would pay $2-plus for it. (Hey, it’s already $1.75.) If the Globe could do a similar thing, albeit in a much smaller restaurant market, that would be worth my $2. The same might be true for some columnists, in the Metro (Abraham) and Op-Ed (Vennochi, Lehigh) sections.But what usually draws me to print newspapers is the smattering of news briefs, and articles available on each page. It’s way easier to scan through different articles when they’re printed together on paper.

  2. acf

    The NYT tried charging extra for its featured writers with its Times Select package. Notice it’s not around any longer. They probably learned that not enough people were willing to pay for it. The Times writers had national names, and they couldn’t pull it off. Writers like Vennochi and Lehigh, to mention a couple of Globe feature writers, are not strong enough or followed enough to warrant such an attempt.I wouldn’t pay $2.00/day for the Globe or $5.00 on sunday to get in depth restaurant reviews for example. I might consider a fee on a periodical basis for such a feature, but not as a condition of getting the daily paper. The paper has to be considered a loss leader to pique my interest in buying some other Globe products, but the newspaper can’t be cheapened into irrelevancy as the stick to make me purchase the enhanced premium product that would give me what they should have been providing all along.

  3. mike_b1

    I think the question would be better posited: Why do you read the paper?For example, I subscribe to the Sunday Globe. It has less to do with the content on a given day so much as the act of spending some leisure time in front of a fire reading. Now, that’s not to say that content is immaterial. To wit, if there were no Globe, would I read the Sunday Herald? No. But I would probably instead subscribe to the Times or some other such paper that didn’t “shout” at me the way the tabloids do.The Globe gets my business because 1) it comes out on a day I have time to sit down and read 2) the format (a newspaper, and generally up to date) 3) its locally based (and thus more likely to have coverage of things relevant to me 5) the tone 6) the price isn’t restrictive.But I’m not reading it simply because of its Sports, its Metro, its Business, its World, its Arts, etc. Nor do I consider the Globe the best-written paper available, though it is the best-written local paper. Far and away, the most important reason for me is simply the act of reading … something on Sunday morning. If it weren’t the Globe, it would be a newsmagazine, or Vanity Fair, or SI, etc.I doubt I’m n=1.

  4. NewsHound

    Wishful thinking. Newspapers need to be prepared, published and priced for maximum penetration into a defined, healthy retail market with purchasing power. It is principally an advertising business and when the readership shrinks to the point that advertising is inefficient the newspaper is no longer viable.

  5. rozzie02131

    I don’t really care if the “newspaper” is on paper or online, but I will pay an amount that seems reasonable for a display that provides the editing and organization of the newspaper. I don’t really want a lot of customization. I want to read the whole paper, laid out for me with stories of interest and importance up front, so I can spend 30-60 minutes enjoying the newspaper experience.I am happy to pay for that but not $800+ a year. However I don’t need to have it on paper and delivered, with all the expense that entails. Put the premium complete newspaper online, and $10 a month sounds about right.

  6. Brad

    I think the idea of charging a little for news content is a bad idea. Why pay a buck for something you can get for free?Instead, charge a LOT for the content, and somehow repackage it as a status symbol. It has to be fairly, if not wildly, ridiculous…but still be very practical. The concept of bottled water comes to mind. When that first started happening, it was very expensive and most everyone thought it was the stupidest idea in the world. But then rich people did it to be trendy, and upper-middle-class people bought it to look rich, and then middle-class people bought it to feel like they were rich, and so on and so forth.You’d probably need a somewhat different delivery system. Something that leverages something that only rich people would buy at this point. If this were a few years ago, I’d say use a semacode and make a website that can only be accessed via that code’s URL…but cameraphones and smartphones are too ubiquitous now. Maybe a Kindle instead.Or if you’re really ballsy, create a new language and start a new career for peons to translate it for their rich bosses.The marketing of this would be key, of course. True, you’d have to have content that only rich people could use, but that non-rich people could THINK they could use (someday you have to expand beyond just rich people). But at first it has to be something that either is, or seems very much like, really useful information. Maybe a magazine that’s devoted to insider trading tips. Obviously you wouldn’t call it that, and it probably wouldn’t even BE that, but you’d market it slyly as such.And you’d charge a lot for it at first…like $5000/month. The sort of money that people pay just to show that they’re the only ones who can afford it.Ultimately that’s the core value here: create a product that is for the rich, and serves no other real purpose other than allowing the rich to demonstrate that they ARE rich to everyone else.Maybe a newspaper that is intentionally blurry unless you wear special glasses to read it, and then have some ridiculously high-fashion guy make a line of special glasses that are distinctive enough that others will realize you’re reading the rich person’s newspaper.

  7. Chris Rich

    Maybe the biz model is eclipsed.Web news involves loading and moving pixels and can be customized in a google news feed. On mine, I dumped all sports, celebrity info tainment, sci tech and health and added eco tech and sustainability and it works well.Print media involves lots of shredded tree pulp, messy web press setups,( a typical press run has to waste a lot of paper and ink just calibrating),gas wasted on delivering the bundles, warehouse space costs and so on.All this for something that has a shelf life of about a day. Yes it’s hard to read a lap top while sitting on the can but still, to get rid of all that energy waste and mess creation to feed some nostalgia for a time that is quickly passing.People will look back on this one day and wonder at the vast messes and resource misallocation over a simple function like conveying information and opinion.

  8. Ari Herzog

    Chris nailed it in the comment above: the costs of production, printing, and postage. The three Ps, a term used by Popular Science editor-in-chief Mark Jannot when I recently heard him speak at Harvard Business School.Popular Science expects to phase-in a five-year program to do exactly what you imply the Globe should do, but with three incremental tiers: a free basic tier online, a paid expanded tier online, and a more expensive print tier. Jannot is convinced people will continue to buy print magazines in five years.I presume ditto for newspapers, at least through another generation.But for those three Ps, which includes the energy factor, raising the price is a no-brainer. The key is the infrastructure needs to be improved to get the content online faster and more readable. When a newspaper only provides a partial RSS feed, for instance, that’s like providing a newspaper with a headline and no content.The business model is changing; but it has a while to go.

  9. Rob

    I will pay for in-depth local coverage particularly of politics. I don’t need the Globe’s take on national issues generally.

  10. Multiple Monitors

    I’m kind of glad newspapers are going extinct. They should convert to the web. It saves paper resources and it’s so much more convenient on-line. Plus, you don’t get ink all over your fingers. I do get newspapers sometimes, when I need packing supplies… ha!

  11. mike_b1

    Sounds like Popular Science is working on what Consumer Reports has done for years.

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