MediaPost reported yesterday that NewBay Media, LLC will be putting its two titles it acquired from RBI behind paywalls. Both Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable will now require its web readers to buy a $199 subscription to the print product in order to continue to get total access to the websites.
This approach makes sense for those B2B titles that charge for their print products. Since greater audience numbers are a bit less important that penetration of an industry, the idea that the publisher would charge for content makes some sense . . . kinda.
The problem is that most B2B magazines do not have dedicated web staffs that are capable of producing an interesting web product separate from their print products. As a result, most of the content than makes it online is identical to the print product. As a result, publishers feel their print products are threatened by the web. And they are!
The fact is that a weekly product that thinks it makes sense to have the same copy online is truly at risk from the web. Putting that content behind a paywall will only cover up the problem, however. The fact is that print readers know when they are reading stale copy and will continue to migrate online if they can find the same news there.
On the other hand, if the print content is more feature oriented, and still works in print, then that copy should never appeared online to begin with -- it's not what web readers want anyway.
Because of this, I'm not against publishers erecting paywalls in principal. It is a tacit admission that their web properties are simply clones of their print products. This is why most publishers who are erecting paywalls, including NewBay Media, are still allowing web readers access to 'breaking news' stories.
Publishers need to realize that it is 2010 and that creating a web product involves different editorial content choices than print products -- this is even more true when talking about monthlies. But the fear is that it will take more staffing to maintain a truly 24/7 website. As a result, a web-first approach is being taken by many.
Originally, many magazine's first websites were merely advertisements for the print products. Most publishers, though, were eager to evolve those original sites into daily news sites. The strain this placed on the print editorial teams meant that less time could be spent creating great print products. In the end, the editors were blamed for not being web-oriented and conflict ensued. Many a media 'guru' got their start pointing the finger at print editors.
But in some cases, trying to produce a daily web product makes no sense if the print product suffers. Far too many really poor B2B websites have been created that merely contain press releases and rehashed copy from the print product -- in fact, most of them are in this condition. Most trade publications -- and I'm afraid the media trade publications are no exception -- have simply not created good web products.
An interesting side effect of all this is that some print editors are discovering that the copy they are putting up online is not drawing readers. This same copy then goes into print. But because most trade pubs have controlled circulations, editors don't get much negative feedback from print readers about how boring and uninformative those print products are. Those printed magazines simply come into the office and are thrown on a table.
Online, though, the traffic reports show the true story. Good editors are adjusting their copy: more features oriented in print, breaking news online. In this way a trade publication can have two separate but related products. Really smart editors go one step further: realizing that the web is without borders, they are introducing more international content, and content that would be considered outside the domaine of their print products, experimenting with new segments and topics, creating a truly unique web product.