It had to happen sometime.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette announced Sunday that, starting Aug. 5, its northwest Arkansas newspaper edition will no longer offer free access to print edition stories on the Web. Like content on the state edition of the paper at ArkansasOnline.com, NWANews.com will be accessible to paying subscribers only.
Publisher Walter Hussman, who’s been praised by many in the ailing daily newspaper industry for sticking to his guns when it comes to charging for online content, is once again putting his money where his mouth is. Until now, NWANews.com offered free access to fight its regional competitor, The Morning News’ NWAonline.net, which is free as well. But competitive concerns have been overwhelmed by the fundamentals of a dicey business environment, Hussman said.
NWAnews.com has remained free out of competitive concerns in Northwest Arkansas, but challenging economic conditions across the nation have required companies to examine more closely all aspects of business and newspapers are no different, Hussman said.
Even with most online readers being print edition subscribers, Hussman said he’s seen some evidence of customers canceling their print subscriptions because they could get the information online for free.
Some content will remain free, however. The Democrat-Gazette says that includes “a variety of interactive features such as blogs, polls, breaking news alerts, original videos and others.” “Blogs” includes a Razorbacks blog (but does not include newspaper content on WholeHogSports.com).
“There’s going to be a lot of information we want to make available to them that we hope will keep them coming back again and again,” said Mat Costa, the online director of NWAnews.com. “Our goal at the end of the day is for visitors to have a very different experience on the Web site than what they do when they read the newspaper.”
That strategy, of course, mirrors the strategy with the state edition at ArkansasOnline.com, where nonsubscribers can access news from the Associated Press (now a commodity on the Web); Focus, a third-party Flickr-like site that hosts DG staff and user-submitted photos; video features; and directories for real estate, jobs, restaurants and events.
What does this mean for competitors and readers? More, after the jump.
Obviously, the DG’s lock down can’t hurt The Morning News, the Stephens Media-owned newspaper that just this week upset the DG to win first place among larger daily newspapers in general excellence at the Arkansas Press Association awards. Its NWAOnline.net remains free to all comers (although it charges for a digital replica of its print edition). Local TV stations that offer free news online and niche players like us at ArkansasBusiness.com won’t be complaining, either.
What does this mean for readers? Apparently, not much because, according to Hussman, most of the site’s online readers are already print subscribers. As for the freeloaders who poached state edition content from the free northwest site, they will either convert to subscriptions or go away forever, which probably matters little when your stated goal is to preserve the print edition.
And what does it mean for the Web site? Well, you can kiss some of those inbound links goodbye. Bloggers and other Web sites will be loathe to send their readers to locked-down content, which in turn means more online irrelevance for DG news stories and opinion columns.
The DG will try to compensate by adding those previously mentioned “interactive features.” Those features might be able to compete with offerings from others — like corporate-owned TV stations still striving to build hyperlocal Web portals. Except, unlike the DG, their daily news will be free.
The Razorbloggers consider Hussman’s move in the context of its sports coverage, and say they’ll have to rethinking its informal policy of not linking to locked down content. And in that vein, the Arkansas Expats wonder whether “Wally Watch” is endangered.
The Fayetteville Flyer says Hussman’s strategy doesn’t address the question of who to survive once the presses stop running. Also: Did Hussman just tell “current and potential advertisers that there’s no value in placing ads on [his] website?” Yep. I think he did.
Filed under: Arkansas Business, business, Internet, Media, Newspapers, sports, TV, Video | Tagged: advertising, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas Expats, ArkansasBusiness.com, ArkansasOnline.com, Associated Press, blogs, breaking news, daily newspapers, Fayetteville Flyer, Flickr, Internet, Jon Schleuss, journalism, Mat Costa, news, Newspapers, NWANews.com, NWAOnline.com, online, print, print edition, publishing, Razorbacks, Razorbloggers, Stephens Media, The Morning News, TV, Video, Wally Watch, Walter Hussman, Web, WholeHogSports.com |