by Roger Pynn
All around us we see great newspapers biting the dust or changing hands for peanuts – latest example, the Philadelphia Inquirer scooped up by local business leaders at fire sale prices – or deciding (probably way too late in the game) to start charging online consumers the way they’ve continued charging print subscribers in hopes that at least one of their business models will survive.
Interestingly, my newspaper alma mater … the paper I grew up on and have been hoping to get old on, the Orlando Sentinel, has decided that because I’ve stayed the course and continued to subscribe, I won’t have to “become a member.”
I have a lot of buddies down at 633 North Orange Avenue and I pray they are making the right decision. They are not alone and are headed down a new road astride some heavy hitters like the Boston Globe, their neighbor Florida Today and their sister paper the Los Angeles Times.
Frankly, I’ve believed they should have been charging for online consumption for a long time. But I fear they’ve given it away for so long that now their online audience is the big prize and those fickle digital readers may just choose to go elsewhere. Unfortunately the handwriting may be on the wall, if you consider the comments of some of the UCF sports fans referenced by Sentinel Sports Writer Illiana Limon in a Sunday blog post. To summarize: “Just wanted to say good-bye early to you as I will never pay to read an article online … Illiana, I will miss your coverage of UCF after next week when the OS starts charging. You do a great job, but I can’t pay for the site when I don’t read enough of the other stuff to make it worth it … Orlando will go from being a one newspaper town to a no newspaper town.”
If the entire audience has become as segmented as those who read the sport “pages,” the future could be very dim.
One thing is for sure. Charging for their digital product will require they invest in content, quality and accuracy … things that many papers have forgotten as they dealt with the crippling loss of ad revenue.
Best of luck to what we used to proudly refer to in the banner as “Florida’s Best Newspaper.”