The concept of paying for online content is beginning to creep into the Web site of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But it's clear the daily newspaper hasn't quite figured it out yet.
Take their online version of their investigative piece, "The Preacher's Mob," for example. At the top of the article on JSOnline reads this editors' note:
EDITORS NOTE: Investigative reporting is the most expensive form of journalism produced by the Journal Sentinel newsroom. Because of the expense and resources it requires, we are giving our print and e-edition subscribers exclusive access to the Preacher's Mob series. We will be doing this on a regular basis with certain enterprise stories and investigations. Online readers will be able to see the full story later this week. For now, all readers can read this summary version below or click on several interactive and multimedia features, including a mini-documentary that contains jailhouse interviews, audio files of secret recordings of Michael Lock by a law enforcement informant, and an interactive map of key dates and places in the world of Michael Lock. With an e-edition subscription, you can read the full series as it unfolds over five days in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel starting May 17. To sign up for an e-edition, click here.
Oddly, when you click on that link, it takes you to the old version of JSOnline, outsourced to a third-party provider called subscriber-service.com, and it's not entirely clear what you're supposed to do. Presumably, they expect readers to sign up for a subscription that allows you to read "an exact replica of the newspaper," which surely isn't the most usable way to read a story online. Or, I guess we can wait a few days, though expecting readers to remember to come back to read anything a week later is dubious.
Charging for content online is a tricky proposition. Mark Cuban makes a pretty good point in his blog:
"Newspapers want to charge for content, or really, anything and everything they can. In order to do so, you need to get the customers credit card on file. NO ONE, and I MEAN NO ONE is going to go through the hassle of entering a credit or debit card in order to buy their first penny, nickel or dime article. It's far too much hassle. Even using PayPal is a hassle."
This isn't to say that it can't be done, but the process needs to be cheap and easy, and more importantly, the content must be so unique that readers cannot find it anywhere else for free. Moreover, if the newspaper can just monetize its ad sales, it shouldn't need to charge its readers anything. Yes, newspaper industry, it can be done. I happen to own a company that does it every day.
Is "The Preacher's Mob" good enough to justify readers to pay for it? I guess I won't find out, since I don't subscribe to the newspaper, and I'm not going to subscribe just to read this one article. Maybe I'll check back later this week. But probably not.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.