Turning seed corn into junk food

This will probably be my last post until after Christmas. But I wanted to note that the Standard-Times of New Bedford will erect a pay wall around its Web site starting Jan. 12.

As Jon Chesto of the Patriot Ledger notes, it’s not entirely unanticipated, since the Standard-Times’ owner is Rupert Murdoch, who has launched a crusade against free content. Murdoch’s man in New Bedford is Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell, who says he’ll unveil his own paid-content system sometime next year as well.

Though I think pay walls are a bad idea, the Standard-Times’ system is better than some: you’ll be able to read up to 10 stories a month without paying, which means the paper won’t be completely closing itself off to the outside blogosphere.

Still, it’s hard to imagine that the Standard-Times’ fine Web site, South Coast Today, won’t deteriorate under the new system. It’s a shame, because the paper’s original Web site, http://www.s-t.com, was a pioneering effort that garnered national attention back in the mid-1990s.

The print edition may well realize some short-term gains — no longer will local readers be able to catch up on news in Southeastern Massachusett for free. But Murdoch and Purcell are turning their seed corn into Fritos.

Photo (cc) by Daniel R. Blume and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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11 thoughts on “Turning seed corn into junk food

  1. TomW

    As a long-ago journalist, I dislike seeing the decline of print newspapers, but I have to think that Murdoch & Co. are, to use an oft-used (over used?) phrase, on the wrong side of history.

  2. Going to be hard to sell CPM based ads when you reduce your available “M” by a huge factor. Your sales staff will go broke and be forced to find greener pastures. Since their paid print will be effectively competing with the online product, print reps cant expect to do much better either. So when the economy comes back to wherever it ends up coming back to, the’ll be nobody to sell the ads to those looking to buy them, and no place to place the ads if there were. I guess the best they can hope for is making money off the online subscriptions. Which will open new spaces for those who are happy to take that advertising revenue. But can the business survive with just the online subscriptions? Can they put out a product worth buying without the other two? Sounds rather risky to me.. but perhaps they are using that paper and that market as the testing grounds. Without the sales force and the physical paper on every street corner, they better have some great SEO people, because I can see Google saying “Sorry Rupert, just like you told us, we dont feel like giving you that exposure for free… and now your fighting on our home field, your site will be found on results page #6”.

  3. lkcape

    You have long predicted that a paper going behind a pay wall for its on-line offerings will suffer. I agree with your assessment

    I guess were now going to see the experiment play itself out in a local context.

    How long does it last? Three months, six, a year?

    I would argue sooner rather than later.

    News is like water flowing to the sea. It seeks the path oof least expense.

  4. Harrybosch

    I confess the phrase “seed corn” only reminds me of the individual responsible for turning me from a wishy-washy Independant into the registered Republican I am and have been for twenty years or so.

    How’s that Belgian Endive initiative going?

    Of course, the Republican party of today is not the party I joined.

    At any rate, Merry Christmas to all!

  5. Newshound

    Another step backwards. I don’t think Rupert Murdoch is in touch with the demographics of New Bedford or the surrounding communities.

    More and more people are going along through life without the daily newspaper, and they’ll go along without the Standard-Times on the Internet.

    When there is a void something will happen by some enterprising, innovative, opportunistic souls the same as Craig’s List and so much else. Next to go for newspapers might be legals.

    Rupert is going to find out he doesn’t have a monopoly over local advertising opportunities, local news, or the Internet. He is shooting himself in the foot.

    Another nail in the coffin, but in time I think there will be an improved product by someone more in touch with a better opportunity for the citizens and advertisers.

    Murdoch is throwing away the advantage he paid to have in purchasing the New Bedford daily.

  6. O-FISH-L

    I disagree with Dan, and most of the comments above. As Thomas Paine once said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

    Newspapers cannot continue to charge for print and give away for free the same content on-line. Imagine a restaurant charging for dine-in, but giving the same meal for free as take-out.

    Not sure if the Standard-Times model is the one that will lead the way, but newspapers cannot survive with the free internet model, especially if advertising dollars aren’t following to the net.

    p.s. — MERRY CHRISTMAS to all in the Nation!

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Fish: I can’t believe I’m responding on Christmas morning. If the Standard-Times wanted to experiment with a free website that did not offer the exact same content as the print edition, I think that would be great. I’m on record as saying the Globe should keep Boston.com free but get rid of the “Today’s Paper” section, since it’s a perfect, free substitute for the print edition.

      But by charging for the website, all Murdoch is doing is ensuring that no one will go there.

      Merry Christmas!

  7. Newshound

    Fish – you make Christmas that much cheerier . . . I wonder how much Rupert follows the Thomas Paine business model. Apparently, some.

    The amazing thing is that with all the focus on the Internet, the most cost efficient and most effective advertising is ink on newsprint delivered in the newspaper even with its shrinkage in market penetration. Inserts in the Sunday paper is the proof.

    One of the earlier nails newspaper publishers put in their coffin was accepting circulars in place of advertising on news pages. Remember when Jordan Marsh would run a series of full-page ads in Boston Globe?

    Newspaper publishers have been too cooperative to diminish the monopolistic advantages once enjoyed with very attractive cash flow. Raising subscription, advertising and classified rates when readership is naturally declining is not the methodology to boost the dominance of a newspaper franchise. They are charging more for less.

    Charging for the Internet may be as destructive, too.

    Another Google, Microsoft, Craig’s List -type innovators, and the newspaper with its idea of charging for the Internet will most likely be the final nail in the coffin.

  8. Patricia

    The Worcester Telegram’s Web site at telegram.com went behind a pay wall for several years in the middle part of this decade, but it quietly opened up a couple of years ago (I think). What was up with that?

  9. Al

    I lived in the New Bedford area for quite a few years and was a subscriber to the Standard Times, so I’m familiar with it and its market. I still go to its web site on a regular basis to keep in touch. In spite of that, I don’t see it as a paper that anyone would be willing to pay to go behind the pay wall. Time will tell.

  10. Ben

    The Standard Times used to have a nice comments function at the bottom of stories. Unfortunately, it seemed to have gone away a little while ago. Another big mistake. The Fall River Herald covers some of the same stories, so there may be the opportunity for some competition here.

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