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Extra Extra…charges for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette proclaimed itself cool yesterday by launching PG+, not a new movie rating but a paid online supplemental content service for those who can’t get enough of their columnists.  A similar concept is rumored to be in the works at the NY Times.  My bold prediction: much hype at launch, little fanfare in a few months when they shut it down.

The Post-Gazette’s own article on the concept is self-congratulatory and far from objective, with no one quoted who thought this might be just another cry for attention from the free-falling world of print journalism.  The service, priced at 3.99/month, or $36/year if you pay up front, includes:

“…a new stream of exclusive blogs, videos, live chats and behind-the-scenes looks at the news of the day.”

The announcement makes their own “free” content sound pedestrian, while making the “paid” content seem uninteresting.  Oh, and they include social networking software!  I’m sure all the Gen X, Y, and Z’ers will be dumping Facebook and jumping right in for some “live chats”. 

If a newspaper has some good content, I’ve got a suggestion:  put it on your free Web site.

I just don’t see how any local print franchise can hope to pull off what the strongest brands in print journalism have failed to do:  generate decent revenue from paid content.  The NY Times failed, the Wall Street Journal barely makes money online, and no one else is even in the game.  People will not pay for online local print content at a volume and price that makes it remotely worth the embarrassment. 

Rather, local print needs to lose the pretense and focus on creating compelling content that is ad supported.  There are simply too many paths to content, too many alternatives for news, for a paid subscriber model to work anymore.

To that point, our local paper implemented an impenetrable new Web site last year that was driven by its parent, Gannett.  When the change was implemented, my wife speculated the new interface was  designed to preserve the local delivery business.  If they could make the online experience bad enough, maybe we would keep print delivery.

Today, for the first time in my life, no newspaper lands in my driveway each morning.  I can access everything I need, more than I ever imagined I could need actually, online.  I still like to grab the WSJ now and then and page through it over coffee.  Now that the local paper no longer comes to the house, I can’t remember the last time I read it in print.  That’s a shame, because I loved reading the newspaper, the tactile experience, until very recently. 

Since my habits are heading away from paying, I can’t see how PG+ could ever make a dent in the revenue problems facing local print organizations.  Sad but true.

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Written by Mike Venerable

September 3, 2009 at 9:00 am

One Response

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  1. Received a letter from the Cincinnati Enquirer stating, “due to hardships in our industry, we are forced to increase your subscription price.” Now the only paper that lands in my driveway is the WSJ – still like the “feel” of it.

    ScottM

    September 9, 2009 at 8:23 pm


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