Mark Potts on Hussman’s Locked-down Web Strategy, 3,400 Web Subscribers

Recovering Journalist blogger Mark Potts files an assessment of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman’s locked-down Web strategy (with the exception of the all-free NWANews.com site, of course, as well as his more progressive Tennessee newspaper the Chattanooga Times Free Press).

Noted: Hussman, appearing at a meeting of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, says the DG has signed up about 3,400 subscribers in the past seven years of the locked-down model. At about $60 a year, that’s $200,000 in annual revenue. Good: That’s subscription revenue that costs virtually nothing to get, and you don’t have to pay any sort of print or delivery costs. Bad: That 200k per year is hardly enough to pay for a big news operation like the DG.

Of course, Hussman doesn’t worry about the latter because he’s actively working to preserve the print edition — against all signs that the print model for daily newspapers is flagging.

Hussman thinks he’s found a winning model. But Potts points to problems with the setup:

  • Demographics: Little Rock is a fairly conservative market with an older population and a fairly low level of broadband Internet penetration. That may give a built-in edge to print, at least for now.
  • Competition: Every paper faces more competition from Web sites and non-traditional publishers in its market than it probably realizes, and the Press-Democrat is no exception: craigslist is thriving in Little Rock, and Yelp seems to be getting a foothold. The city has its share of blogs and alternative print publications, too. But it’s not exactly a media mecca, and the Democrat-Gazette probably has less to fear, for now, from big national Web sites encroaching on its turf—and audience. Take sports, for instance. Without any major pro sports teams, the city’s main sports interest is the University of Arkansas’ teams. That probably makes it harder for ESPN.com or other national sports sites to get a significant foothold in the market and provide obvious alternatives to the Democrat-Gazette’s gated coverage. That’s a situation not matched in other good-sized cities.
  • Market position: The Democrat-Gazette claims that it has the largest percentage of market penetration of any major American daily (I’ve heard the same claim from at least two other papers, so let’s just say its market penetration is excellent). That would indicate the Little Rock residents are particularly devoted to their newspaper and thus will be slower to switch to alternatives.
Still, Potts lauds Hussman’s efforts as a valuable experiment, although he sees it as somewhat short-sighted.

You can read Potts’ full post here. Kudos to the commenter who points out Hussman’s northwest Arkansas Web strategy, which Potts’ doesn’t mention in his post.

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2 Responses

  1. […] column (via the Washington Post) echoes conclusions in Mark Potts’ recent examination, noted here, of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s print/Web strategy, which put newspaper content online […]

  2. […] subscriber numbers – Back in May, we noted Mark Potts’ reporting of DG Publisher Walter Hussman’s comments at the Southern…. At the time, Hussman claimed, according to Potts, that the DG had signed up about 3,400 […]

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