I had an interesting conversation earlier this week with a co-worker about our local paper, the Poughkeepsie Journal, having thrown up a paywall on their website. He's a good decade plus older than I am, and we're bother Poughkeepsie Journal subscribers, which means we both have unlimited access to their digital content.
I think the current PJ approach is a disaster. Not because making people pay for digital is a bad thing, but because of the way they are doing it. They've spent all this money on a "virtual paper", this goofy web app that makes it look like an actual paper. I thought it was aweful, my colleage quite liked it.
And that's the point. The people that want the digital paper to act like a physical paper, are all older than 40, and are aging out. Anyone younger than that has had the Web for their adult life, and wants their information in a digital first state. You want people in their 20s and 30s to buy your product, you need to make it native to them. Not doing so is just a going out of business strategy.
Where's my clean, responsive website, that seemlessly works in mobile, tablet, and desktop? Where's my urls to articles that work forever, so if I want to link something in a blog, twitter, or facebook, I don't generate a broken link after 7 days when you shuffle it off to a different archive site, or loose it forever after 30 days. Where's my setting to turn off advertising on the digital site as a subscriber? Where's my kindle version?
And the answer is, no where. And that's why most of the friends I have that are younger than me completely scoff at paying for a Poughkeepsie Journal subscription. Want to see this stuff done right? Got check out the Boston Globe, and read about what they did. That's worth a digital only subscription.
There are solutions out there, and I actually think that if you make a compelling digital product, people (especially people in their 20s and 30s) will pay for it. But digital has to be the first priority of the organization, and right now, for Gannett (the PJ parent company), it seems like it's about 15th priority. The one bright spot I've seen is the Poughkeepsie Journal is really doing a good job with twitter. I suspect that's because they are doing that independent of Gannett (who uses the same antiquated CMS backend for all their papers, compare Poughkeepsie Journal to Burlington Free Press some time). So I think the folks at PJ might actually get it, but they are hampered by a parent company that doesn't.
Here's to hoping they make the leap past this very broken digital attempt and into something digital native, while there is still cash in the bank. I want the Poughkeepsie Journal to still be around in 10 years, and that's not going to be true based on the path they are currently on.