Star Tribune, Pioneer Press editors intrigued by paywalls

Editor & Publisher’s Joe Strupp has a big feature on the newspaper-site paywall movement, and it includes cautiously supportive quotes from Strib editor Nancy Barnes and PiPress editor Thom Fladung:

In another state capital, St. Paul, Minn., Editor Thom Fladung of the Pioneer Press says there’s so much competing statehouse coverage in his region that any related paid Web content would have to include an exclusive element or in-depth reporting to stand out: “Politics is very big here, that is something I would try. But there is the exclusivity.” He cites online community discussions or interactive features as other pay candidates, but adds that local news can be the best content to sell: “Newspapers, even in our diminished state, are the only ones with a lot of reporters in a lot of places.”

Fladung believes that a pay-one-price plan is probably not workable, given the different online offerings and readers’ varying Web habits. “The model I’ve seen that most intrigues me is when it is tiered,” he explains. “You pay the more you use it, and [print] subscribers get it for free.”

Across the Mississippi River at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Editor Nancy Barnes excludes breaking news from the paid discussion. “There are too many sources for it,” she says, adding that such stories “need to be free.” She cites several exclusive types of stories that could be posted on a pay-only basis, from interviews to investigative series — “content that doesn’t make it to the Web sites of competitors,” she adds. “We’d want to reward the people who would be paying.”

The Strib already withholds some Sunday features, but that’s only to make print seem more worth paying for. I don’t hear too much gnashing of teeth, except among print payers who would like instant web access too.

Of course, the Strib is on the verge of charging for some Access Vikings content, and a broader paywall seems likely. It could be a failure of imagination, but I’m just not sure I see much income there, or via metering at the PiPress’ Twincities.com.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 09/16/2009 - 05:44 pm.

    I hope both papers go that route; it’ll take ’em over the cliff even faster.

    And equally hopeful that those sifting through the wreckage to buy what little remains will be local entrepenuers with sound journalistic backgrounds.

  2. Submitted by Rick Ellis on 09/16/2009 - 10:35 pm.

    Given the PiPress’s lackluster TwinCities.com, I can’t imagine that they would seriously consider any sort of a pay wall, tiered or not. There are a lot of things they could do to boost web revenue, but a paywall is probably the least likely to succeed option.

    When it comes to major markets, paywall experiments haven’t been especially successful. And it’s difficult for me to see what sort of content you can put behind a paywall that wouldn’t just leak out some other way.

    The Strib’s Viking experiment might work, but I suspect they’re not going to get nearly the numbers they expect, and the churn rate will probably be brutal. Of course, if they’re going to do it, then their smart to do it now before ESPN rolls out one of their local-branded sports site in the Twin Cities.

  3. Submitted by Gary Lee on 09/17/2009 - 11:30 am.

    “Newspapers, even in our diminished state, are the only ones with a lot of reporters in a lot of places.”

    Obviously the editor has not taken a stroll through what used to be the newsroom, but is now being used for storage of unused furniture and obsolete computer equipment. The number of reporters at both papers has been going down steadily since the 1980’s. There are more places around town without any representation from either paper than those they still cover. The staff numbers don’t lie.

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