The Providence Journal’s print-first strategy

During the same week that the Boston Globe started charging for much of its online content and the New York Times announced it has signed up 324,000 paying digital customers, the Providence Journal unveiled its new website — a prelude to its long-promised (or long-threatened) paywall.

The new ProvidenceJournal.com — goodbye, Projo.com — includes just the first few paragraphs of most stories. If you want to read the whole paper online, you have to subscribe to one of those miserable e-editions, a PDF-like format that is difficult to navigate and even more difficult to read. (The Journal’s implementation does seem to be slightly less miserable than others I’ve seen.) There’s an iPad version, too.

Ted Nesi, who’s been writing about the Journal for WPRI.com, says it’s not yet clear what access will cost after the current free trial period expires. But this is not a digital strategy — it’s a print strategy, built on the idea of downgrading the Journal’s electronic presence. Nesi and I talked last December, when the Journal announced the new direction, and what I said then seems to apply now:

The Journal is sacrificing its website in order to bolster its print edition, which is where it makes most of its money. I understand why Journal managers are doing this, but it’s a short-term solution that could prove harmful in the long term. I also wonder whether it will even accomplish anything. Newspaper readers are skimmers, and a headline and brief synopsis of a story may be all that they want.

The Times is proving that people will pay for a well-thought-out, reasonably priced online edition. The Globe is about to learn whether readers in Greater Boston will do the same. The Journal, by contrast, is looking backwards. It might even work — but for no more than a few years.