Would you pay for news online?

Back in March, the news juggernaut New York Times began charging the most frequent users of its website to access news they used to get for free. (Read its announcement back in January here.)

Others have tried. But no American news organization as large as The Times has put its content behind what’s called a pay wall.

While the response was mixed, the company remained steadfast — and readers, so far, have embraced the pay-for-access concept. According to the Times, it had 224,000 digital subscribers at the end of the second quarter, in addition to 57,000 who are accessing the paper on e-readers and “replica editions.” All told, the company has 281,000 paid digital subscribers.

“The positive consumer response to the digital subscription packages is a strong indication of the value that users place on our high-quality news, analysis, and commentary,” said Janet L. Robinson, president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company, in a statement.”

But will this model work in, say, Hawaii?

We’re about to find out, as the Honolulu Star-Advertiser announced yesterday it was going to start charging for premium online content on Aug. 5.

(Subscribers to the print edition will receive all-access passes to premium content at no extra charge.)

For $19.95 a month, here’s what you get:

• The print edition
• Access to all website content
• Access to a new e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition
• Access via computer, iPad, iPhone or smartphone
• Ability to forward stories to their email or social media accounts
• Participate in online discussions
• Ability to open links to premium content

The thing is, I’m not sure what “premium content” is.

Because here’s the weird thing: According to the story, nonsubscribers will still have free digital access to breaking news, Associated Press stories, the website’s front page and section fronts, event calendars, Honolulu Pulse, TGIF, photo galleries, blogs, classifieds, travel, obituaries and traffic.

Isn’t that all you need…?

I could be wrong. I want to be wrong. I don’t want to see another newspaper — especially the one in my hometown — go the way of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News.

But unless the Star-Advertiser starts pumping out high-quality, well-researched analysis packages with real privileges like Civil Beat, I don’t know why people would pay.

Would you?

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50 Responses to “Would you pay for news online?”

  1. WhitneyD July 25, 2011 at 4:40 am #

    Not living in Hawaii, I can’t speak to whether or not I think locals will buy it. But it seems like a bad pricing model.

    Most of the papers I’ve seen try to put up pay walls usually stick to two models. The NYT model, where you get a few freebie articles, but have to be a paying user to get full access. Or they put their archives behind a paywall. The NYT has cheaper monthly access, and it’s the NYT- you get recipes from celebrated chefs, articles for prize-winning journos. But you’re paying to have unlimited access.

    I’m just not sure that for any paper, having to pay to join discussions or to share articles to Twitter is a good idea. Most people expect to have those options for free. And frankly, if the stories just aren’t that good… people aren’t going to care about whether or not they can share them.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

      I’m sure you’ve probably read today’s Civil Beat article on Mainlanders paying one-fifth of what Hawaii residents would pay for digital subscription. (See story: http://bit.ly/o96Xcl) That’s even stranger to me!

  2. Makiki July 25, 2011 at 5:24 am #

    Hi Cat!
    The $19.95 if for both print and digital. The strange thing is that if you go digital only it is $50 per year for subscribers that have a HI billed credit Card and $10 for subscibers with what I would guess to be a mainland billed Credit Card.

    In answer to your question – if we get what we do now for free then no. If the digital offering is like the newsstand version then yes.

    The newspaper industry really screwed up with their original online model. What we have now is like a newspaper that is sitting around for all to see (even if some parts are missing). What it should be is like a newspaper at a newsstand or in a vending machine where you can read part of the story and if you want the full story you have to buy the paper – or subscribe. Only excerpts of the content should be available for free. Of course this would only really work if the content is worth reading…

    Alan from Makiki

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

      Exactly. Newspapers screwed themselves by giving away their content for free. (And not realizing the revenue threat Craigslist would be.) So now they’re trying to play catch-up — and we’ll see how it shakes out.

  3. Justin July 25, 2011 at 5:39 am #

    I’m not sure how successful this idea will be for the Star-Advertiser. I guess it really depends on the viewership, what is free versus premium, and if/when other local news sources follow suit. I use Google News, which shows articles from all sources… for now, if the article is important enough, I’m sure I’ll see multiple (free) sources. Or, if what you’re saying is true… I won’t have to go past free access on the Star-Advertiser, since all I have time for is the breaking news.

    It seems that many people believe all major news sources will eventually start charging for premium access. If so, I hope they figure out effective business models in this digital age. So far, I’m still not sure if anyone has figured out how to successfully transition from paper newsprint to digital.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

      If EVERYONE charged for online access, then the model would work. But right now, if you can’t access a story, you’ll just search for another site… No one wants or expects to pay for information, especially online. So we’ll see!

  4. WildeOscar July 25, 2011 at 5:40 am #

    I can’t imagine paying for any news online. Maybe if I ran my own business, I would have to subscribe to some professional publications, and most content is online now. For a consumer of news though, I opt out of paying for anything on-line other than the wired and wireless service to connect to the internet.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

      I think the biggest subscribers to newspapers are other newspapers! LOL!

  5. Terrence July 25, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    $19.95 for Premium Content, they don’t even have it now! I only subscribe to the weekend edition and get all of the breaking news from HawaiiNewNow and KHON on my smartphone. They don’t have enough content even now so what do they think Premium Content is? More of the same? LOL

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

      I was wondering how the digital subscription would work for people who don’t have a full (7 days a week) print subscription. Would you still get online access for free…?

  6. M July 25, 2011 at 7:46 am #

    Hello Cat, all I need is what I’m getting now on-line.

  7. Arabiki July 25, 2011 at 8:22 am #

    In the immortal words of Chris Rock…”NIGGA…is you crazy?”. Who is going to pay $19.95 a month for news they can get for free on other sites or watching the news? There are also news apps for your phone. Cmon now…first they raise the price of the paper now they want to charge for the use of their site? Talk about a fast paced drive into the toilet! HSA you disappoint me…if it wasn’t for your crosswords or @thedailydish…I wouldn’t buy your paper at all!

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

      Aw, thanks for the support! :)

      But even crosswords (and my blog) are accessible online for free. Newspapers need to come up with a more practical business model. But we’ll see. The New York Times is doing it. Maybe it’ll work.

  8. hawaii2000 July 25, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    No, I wouldn’t pay. For one, it’s just not that important to me. For another, there are too many sources for news, even local news, online that is free now. Would I pay if everyone charged a fee? Probably not.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

      Yep, people will just look somewhere else for free information.

  9. aloharoy July 25, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    Cat: Hmmm, let me get this straight. Besides providing actual news coverage, aren’t newspapers supposed to draw in readers with other free features/stories in order to get more advertisers and higher advertising rates?

    But now we’ll have to pay for this “extra stuff” so that the SA can bombard us with more advertising? Ha … I would consider paying for online access more so if it there were no advertisements.

    Errr, that’s ok. I rarely clicked on anything else besides the blogs and breaking news stuff anyway.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

      And I think the blogs and breaking news are going to be free to non-digital subscribers! So there’s no incentive!

      By the way, nice to meet you IRL! Hope the grass grows!

  10. Eric July 25, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    I agree with you. I enjoy scanning the online version of the Star-Advertiser, but I would not pay to do so. There are too many other options available to stay in touch with Hawaii. Also, it looks like most of what I read is going to continue to be offered in the free version.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

      Yeah, I’m a little confused about what’s being offered for free… Maybe it’s only the excerpt of the story and you have to pay to see the rest…? I can’t imagine giving away all that content for free. No incentive to subscribe!

  11. zzzzzz July 25, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    Interesting math… IIRC, I just paid about $56 for 90 days of hard copy, and apparently I now get the online premium content access for no additional charge. It would cost me more to get just the premium onlline content.

    Is the SA trying to pump up its hard copy circulation?

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

      Maybe. The majority of revenue generated by newspapers still come from the print product. So that could be the case!

  12. aloharoy July 25, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Cat: I forgot to add one more thing. One of my favorite parts of the online Advertiser *wink* *wink* (your blog) … is no longer on the new Star-Advertiser anyway.

    You’re not going to start charging for access to your blog, huh?

    Actually, I would pay for that. Well, maybe in FUUD. You know, a malasada here, a Rainbow’s plate lunch there. But don’t know if I could afford to send you to Alan Wong’s though!

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

      Paywall for food content — and you have to pay with food! I LOVE IT!

  13. Alex July 25, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    I’d consider the online-only option at $50 per year. Before I sign up, I’m going to wait and see what’s included for free. If I feel like I’m missing out on something and can’t find it anywhere else, then I’ll sign up.

    Hmm… I just realized that I used to visit the Star Advertiser more often than I do now. Nowadays, I visit the TV news channel websites via Tweets.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

      Good plan. It’s best to wait and see. Who knows, it might not last and you’ll be out $19.95!

  14. David Jackson July 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    NO, I would not pay for online news. However, I would pay for entertainment just as I would for cable vision. I watch most of my TV and all of my movies online and think it is great because my computer monitor is much better than my TV. It is also convenient.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

      It’s interesting… I asked my students if they’d pay for online news. Of course, they all said no. But I asked if they’d pay for social media — which they arguably use hours a day — and they also said no. I guess people don’t expect to pay for anything online these days!

  15. Ken July 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    The target audience of the newspaper is probably buying the print version anyway (local people who have at least some interest in the local ads). Giving these people free access to the internet version makes sense. The internet version will give them quicker access to articles (don’t have to wait until the paper is delivered a day later) and also easy access to older articles.

    Tourist destinations like Hawaii will attract some amount of out-of-town readership. How to monetize that is difficult. Maybe they need to work harder with travel agents and the like to produce a tourist version of the newspaper with more tourist-oriented advertising.

    The newspaper has to find some way to make advertising plus subscription fees pay for the cost of publishing the newspaper. Someone has to pay the journalists. If they can’t figure out a way to make the advertising work, the newspaper will fail (like so many newspapers round the country).

  16. MaxMaxMax July 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    That ship has sailed… can’t put it any simpler… The Star-Advertiser needs to learn to make money for ad revenue and increase hit and ad clicks.

    No one in this day and age should pay for news, unless it’s a niche news feed from a trusted source. Say, a Scott Kelby daily newsletter for photographers, or something.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

      I think you’re right. People will pay for exclusive, need-to-know or niche information — but not general news.

  17. bumper July 25, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    I wouldn’t pay. We are weekend subscribers, but only because my husband likes the local sports coverage. Otherwise, we’d definitely be Civil Beat readers. We also rely heavily on mainland news sources.

    Unfortunately, we’ve never been very impressed by the Advertiser, Star-Bulletin or Star-Advertiser’s reporting or writing. Not one has proven to be a reliable, unbiased news source with articles and news coverage truly worthy paying to read. And more than once, we’ve even seen excerpts from The Wall Street Journal (which we like) recycled multiple times in the SA’s Sunday paper. How can you miss that? As a reader who’s paying attention, I surely didn’t! Things like that don’t speak well for our local paper.

    We log onto the Star-Advertiser website every day out of habit, but never do much more than scan the headlines and laugh at the comments. Good luck to them, though. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Perhaps the increased revenue may lead to better quality journalism and a return of more readers.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

      I agree. Too much wire (not locally written) stories in the Star-Advertiser. No reason for that.

  18. oldshoes July 25, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    no way! not for $20! even they had a centerfold premium picture i wouldnt shell out that kind of money.Sure,once upon a time there were a few authors and columns that were must reads….but that was long agao and far away.Its generic writing,and frankly that can be had,and should be had—-FOR FREE!

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

      I can’t imagine what people would pay for… Maybe Lee Cataluna’s column? Stephen Tsai’s blog?

  19. Doug July 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    The “premium content” includes all the stories produced by S-A journailists. So, on the news, sports, business, editorial “front pages” you’ll see the headline and lede, but only subscribers will see the full story if they click on that headline link.

    This was (poorly) explained in the article.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

      Really…? That makes more sense. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Gene Park July 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    oldshoes, it’s not $20. For online only, it’s either $9.95 a month or $50 a year.

    The $20 pricetag is for the actual newspaper included with the rest of the package.

  21. Patricia Blair July 26, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    The consolidation of the Star-Bulletin & Advertiser did not make for quality news reporting. I am at the age where I can do without the advertisements and fluff. I will pass on paying to read on line.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

      What do you read? Do you subscribe to a print paper?

  22. Jeroen Joosten July 26, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    No, I don’t think I will actually pay for their online content, I kind of miss the point why I should pay for news that I can get for free on various other websites.

    There is one possibility, though. One of my mother-in-law’s residents is subscribed to the Star-Advertiser and maybe I’ll see if I can take his free option for the premium content (since he doesn’t use a computer anyways), but actually paying for it myself? I don’t think so.

    One other thing that I only just noticed, is that they ask $9.99 per month (or $50 a year) for the premium online content if you live in Hawaii, but if you live on the mainland, they only ask $1.95 per month (or $10 per year). I can see why they are doing this, and their greedy thoughts behind it, but I truly fail to see how this would be fair in any way. Imho that’s an even bigger miss by the SA.

    Like some also mentioned: They have way too much ads running on their website (that alone should generate some income, don’t you think?) and their reporting is often one-sided, lacking and a bit sloppy (they give us too much of the information we don’t really want (probably done to fill up the articles) and too little of the news that actually matters (and this is considered the premium content?)). Not to mention the ugly layout they kept after they merged with the Honolulu Advertiser.

    Nah, it may be a one newspaper town nowadays but as long as their are other free options available, I will not pay a single cent for their online content. Not unless they make some drastic changes.

    • Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

      I think certain people will pay for content online — but it has to be quality, exclusive or niche content, not just general news. People can find other ways to obtain information — and they will!

  23. Guest July 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    THere are other news websites that have the same thing for free. Give it up and just die quietly already.

  24. Brian July 26, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    A desparate attempt!! Pound another nail in the coffin of print media!!

  25. melancholyone July 27, 2011 at 1:11 am #

    My account got blocked when I wondered about why there was no comments allowed on their implementation plan.

    I find it odd that a primary source in news information/dissemination wouldn’t allow comments or feedback on what they knew had to be a controversial issue.

    It saddened me to see the free (or pay) press censoring, controlling, and stifling dialogue.

    But they are a monopoly of sorts, so I guess they can.

    Sorry to be whiny and babylike.

    I just feel part of my identity was torn from me when I saw the reply to my comment had
    me commenting as “guest.”

    And emailed customer service to ask about this; no reply.

    Can’t fight the power, I guess.

    And they still won’t allow comments.

    The privilege of power.

  26. hawaii July 27, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    Really interested to see how this works out for the Advertiser. See it working with big papers but wonder if small ones can survive

  27. Catherine Toth July 27, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    Great discussion here! Thanks, everyone, for sharing your thoughts and opinions! Love this!

  28. MaxMaxMax July 28, 2011 at 12:12 am #

    By the way… I do have to say that I downloaded the iPad app for the Star-Advertiser today and downloaded the last five publications. It was free. I must say I was impressed. I enjoyed the reading experience. It keeps the same “newspaper” look and you can read it in that format, or click on a headline and read it in the “Reader” interface that is catching on big these days.

    They may have impressed me enough to “capture my dime” as Paul Simon would say in a classic song of his!

    Kudos to them for trying this out and for coming out with something that is actually pretty slick!

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