Road rage on the Information Superhighway — The sequel
Last year, when The Citizen launched its first independent website, we learned that road rage is not limited to physical highways; it also manifests itself on the Information Superhighway of cyberspace.
In creating that website, we thought we could address some of the issues that all newspapers are facing when it comes to online content: how to provide the news in a way that satisfies readers who are used to free access while also operating so it makes business sense.
Newspapers large and small have found that providing free stories on the Internet is not a sustainable business model. The free content cuts into newspaper sales, bringing total revenues down, while maintaining a website adds to the newspaper’s costs.
Launching the new site last April, The Citizen chose not to follow the lead of the majority of dailies that began to charge for content, but we wanted to address the issue of the online edition detracting from the print paper. The solution was to unlink them, putting up some stories but not all, and doing so at different times of day. Sports stories appeared online as soon as the print edition went to press at midnight; the main news stories went online at 6 a.m. when the papers hit the newsstands and home delivery tubes; and features were posted at 6 p.m., when most of the papers on the newsstand would have been sold.
Like the speeding driver who flashes his lights and honks his horn, we immediately got messages from online readers complaining about us ruining their lives by changing their familiar website and making them search for things they used to take in as they clicked through to the next site. Many of them pleaded for us to return to posting all of the news online and they said they would be happy to pay for it if we did so.
The initial road rage simmered down but we have continued getting requests from both citizens and advertisers to reconsider and provide full content on the web, even if it meant paying for it.
Last month we did just that, launching a newly designed website that puts everything — including advertising — on the web and offers the content both as individual stories and as full-page e-editions with flip views. And we offered it for free as an introduction.
The immediate response was overwhelmingly positive, as we noted in a story that appeared on Thursday. But now, as we approach the end of the free period, the messages are turning darker: “Charging for online access? Yikes!” became “Who in their right mind would PAY to see this disgusting site?”
Well, as we noted in a column last May, in response to a bank loan officer complaining about the former website: I might find it more convenient to go into a bank where the money was laid out for me to take without having to fill out any paperwork or guarantee to pay it back; I could just grab it and go spend it.
The problem is that the bank would not long exist if it operated that way, and the same holds true for the newspaper. It is expensive to operate a news organization. We would not long be in business if we paid a large, professional staff to produce news and then gave it all away.
We’re counting on our readers to see the value of what we do and recognize that you get what you pay for.