Viditorial: Should newspapers charge for online content?

Editorial Page Editor Tony Ronzio and Web Editor Pattie Barry debate the "civil war" issue of the newspaper industry: Should newspaper content online be free?

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.



Ithink print sub scribers

Ithink print sub scribers shouldn'y have to pay! Patti I ACTUALL GOT IN TO ABLOG+ COMMENTED !Thank you!

 's picture

I would hope if the SJ went

I would hope if the SJ went to charging members for online access, that it would improve greatly. If you click on news, it's the news from the past week. If I pay, I want current info...not yesterday's news.

 's picture

i believe that internet

i believe that internet should be free to all U.S. citizens..... not just news..... all internet.

I am not going to pay for

I am not going to pay for local sports, obits, and local news. It's not worth it. I read a paper for national news mostly and I can get that from hundreds of other sources for FREE. As a matter of fact, I think it's outrageous you charge for historical articles. What costs to you actually incur? You already have the hardware and the revenue you receive form that must be minimal. Getting your customer angry is not good customer service.

The recent changes to your web site have seen improvements but your still a long way from being above the rest. You have RSS feeds but only on specific items. What about obits or the opinion page? Those seem to be missing from your feeds. Why bother having feeds at all if you require your patrons to have to visit your web site to get all the news.

 's picture

I think it's very cynical to

I think it's very cynical to think that because people WILL pay that you should MAKE them pay. It's a senseless and self-defeating money grab.

The fact of the matter is that because there are so many FREE on-line news sources as soon as you start to charge, people will go elsewhere. Since your hit count will go down, so will your advertising revenue. You will either have to revert to free content or fold your on-line content due to lack of revenue.

In fact I subscribe to the printed version of SJ. But only for the weekend editions. I never have time to read the paper during the week. I do, however, have time to surf the SJ during breaks at work. The SJ though, continues to send me newspapers throughout the week even though they don't charge us for a full subscription and even though we have called them several times. Monday's paper is still in it's plastic wrapper and will go straight to the recycle bin.

I presume they continue to send me these FREE newspapers because they need to keep there distribution (hit count) up so that their advertising rates don't drop off.

Please tell me if I am off base here.


If we want it we will pay;

If we want it we will pay; thing is the content has to be novel and interesting enough to make us want to pay. Local news and obituaries are the only things not readily available on web. I subscribe to print edition when in Maine and enjoy the web in the off season months. I prefer the web edition while my wife only reads the print editions of wherever we are. Web only should be available at a very modest price as there are no costs of printing or delivery.

 's picture

You'll find that most local

You'll find that most local newspapers in Maine struggle with this issue every day. We're all waiting to see which newspaper makes a decision first. Scary.

 's picture

I'm with Patty! And while

I'm with Patty!

And while Tony may poo-poo her history lesson, he can't talk down the history of human behavior, which hasn't changed much since the days of Homer. People want to get something for nothing, and, as such, we can expect people without paid subscriptions to nurf articles from pals with.

Newspaper publishers used to relish this behavior under the old revenue model, to the point of touting it to advertisers as "pass-through readership" i.e. "every issue is read by three people, so our 20k in sales is really 60k in readers."

A move to paid online subscriptions essentially locks out those extra 40k readers, which can only deepen the detrimental affect new media has on dead-tree adver-fieds.

Tony, instead of saying, "If we produce a great product, people will want to pay us for it," you should be telling yourself, "If we produce a great product, people will want to access it, and advertisers will pay to be in front of those eyeballs."

The conventional wisdom that online news sites should be subscription based is as fatuous as the conventional wisdom that the internet was killing print. No, what's been killing print is that the newspaper is stuffed with AP filler from three states away that means nothing to local readers.

Try this, walk up to anyone with a paper in front of them in Simones' and ask, "Anything in the paper today?" I guarantee you said person will look at the three-inch story about some fire in Vermont and shrug, "Eh, there's never anything in here." However, fill that same three inches with last night's knock-down, drag-out selectboard debate, three towns over, about transfer station hours, and you'll end up in a 40 minute row with Mr. Shrugsalot about what a bunch of boneheads they all are in Town Threefromhere.

The news needs to be hyper-local and needs to be tailored so that the content matches the audience and the delivery platform. The worst thing newspapers do is attempt to duplicate their print efforts online. THAT, will cannibalize readers.

Instead, my mantra is, "Web says what; print says why."

Online stories should be short snippets of info as close to immediate as possible, covering who, what, when and where only. For the morning print addition, and subsequent online articles, build on that, adding a bit more color, for a story just long enough to get grandpa through his morning cup of coffee with a little sumpin'-sumpin' left over to fill time at the water cooler.

Make the Sunday edition (or Sun Media's weekly papers) the showcase for expanded feature-length stories, where you add more color, along with generous helpings of the how and the why. Refer from that edition back online for additional data, like video/audio from public meetings, photo essays and interactive maps.

This way, instead of having one product in print and online, and making your readers choose, while your weeklies compete with the daily for readers and ad dollars, you create a circle of information in which your various outlets feed and compliment each other. Some readers will get what they need from just one outlet, while others will follow the full circle.

Add to that new, creative revenue streams. For example, create an online gift registry for your socials. People who see a wedding, birth, graduation, etc. in the paper can then go online, click an icon, and send a gift to the celebrants in question from some local business. A manufacturer or other business with little need for local advertising might, as a community service, sponsor a real-time blog covering a local sporting event.

There are lots and lots of solutions to the downturn of the newspaper industry. Paid subscriptions for online content is not one of them.

I am, as ever, your most humble servant,


Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...