How will Jeff Bezos disrupt newspapers?
Rediscovering Zite

Why digital newspapers need to be free

My oldest kids, 26 and 24, don’t subscribe to any print newspapers or magazines and I’ll bet they never will. They also don’t pay for any digital newspaper/magazine subscriptions. There's probably no hope for either of them optining in to one of these anytime soon either.

Most, and in some cases, all of the daily news articles are on the paper’s site anyway, so what exactly are you paying for with a digital subscription? The container?

This recent headline says it all: More Print News Subscribers Plan To Cancel Subs. The age group with the largest likely drop-off? 15-34 year-olds.

Then we have the related news last week that the San Francisco Chronicle is dropping their website paywall. So if that website content can be free, why not make the digital replica edition free as well? Think about how much this would would boost circulation and generate significantly more ad impressions and revenue. Will this result in cannibalization where some print subscribers switch to a free digital replica subscription? Sure, but most of those customers have already left and are getting their news free on the paper’s website or somewhere else. So IMHO there’s little left to lose with a free digital replica strategy.

Ironically, while newspapers are worried about digital cannibalizing print, more and more customers are abandoning print for free access on the paper's website. So why do papers think they can charge for their digital replica editions?

I realize papers make far less on digital ads than print. But as print continues to decline they need a new strategy, and one that should include some radical digital initiatives. Btw, the digital replica edition typically represents a much deeper engagement vs., say, your average web page. So are we undervaluing those digital replica edition impressions? I think so.

The value of these newspaper brands is eroding every year. Let’s face it: Their core customer base is getting older…and dying. So what should they do? For starters, quit thinking it makes sense to charge for digital replica when you're providing free access to to that same content on your website.

As the revenue model shifts so too must the newspaper's expense base. Most newspapers have already gone through major staff reductions, so they’re already on their way to a leaner, meaner model. I figure there will have to be even more adjustments, changing from a high fixed-cost base to more of a variable-cost one (think freelance and crowdsourcing). Nobody wants to hear that, but it’s a reality for survival.

If they don’t take action like this, what does the newspaper market look like in 5-10 years? They’ll still be clinging to the dwindling number of baby boomers who feel compelled to read the print edition. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the population will have moved on, satisfying their new craving with free, ad-supported alternatives.

You can bet Mr. Bezos and his new paper, The Washington Post, will be doing plenty of bold, free content experiments. I hope other papers will do the same.


Michelle Louring

I have no newspaper subscriptions, either. Why in the world would I pay for a subscription, when it takes me a few seconds to open up my prefered news sites where I get the news for free?
And the only time I read printed papers is when I find them lying on the train and I have nothing to do anyway...


I have to agree it makes no sense to have people pay for digital subscriptions. They can just go find a site that doesn't make them pay for their news. It's the internet and people have many options, and they of course are going to go for the free ones.

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