Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Dallas Morning News slips behind new paywall

A paywall is not exactly like some remnant of the Cold War, a solid war that separates out the good guys (editors) from the bad guys (readers). It's more like a cyclone fence where the reader can see the content they are missing, and the editors are barkers luring in paying customers.
This morning The Dallas Morning News officially revealed its paywall, though web surfers would have seen it yesterday. While media critics debate the theory of constructing paywalls, readers will simply notice that the DMN website no longer lets them access most content, and that finding how much it will cost them to regain access has been made incredibly hard.

And that is why most paywalls fail: publishers may want to believe that making web readers pay for access to the news is the right thing to do, but in practice they are a bit more sheepish about it.
Take the efforts of Jim Moroney, the publisher, seen at left in the company's user guide to its electronic news offerings. The system put in place today seems to go out of its way to hide the fact that the publisher would actually like you to pay something. Page upon page of promotional material talks about registering, signing-in, etc. But why are they so shy about telling you straight out what they want you to pay?

For Dallas area readers, the easiest way to figure out what the new paywall will cost them is to avoid the system set up to attract them and instead just go to the subscriber services page -- there the circulation department appears to be a little less ashamed to tell them the cost of accessing their newspaper.

As I've said before, I am not philosophically opposed to paywalls, I simply believe that most publishers over estimate the value of their own news products to their readers. This is why the most successful paywalls have been for financial news rather than general newspapers. (And since many newspaper subscribers actually pay for home delivery for the Sunday supplements and coupons found there, paying for electronic content misses the point.)

This morning, for instance, the lead story on the DMN website tells readers that 'Higher gasoline prices begin ringing up concerns in Texas', hardly news to anybody who owns a car. So I want to pay to read that?

But for someone who follows the industry, the DMN paywall will be a great experiment to watch. Along with the soon to be launched NYT metered paywalls, we will be able to look at different models and watch how they perform, assuming the publishers are honest about their performance. Stay tuned.