Friday, February 24, 2012

Retweet: L.A. Times announces its new "membership program" to launch March 5; yes, it's a metered paywall

Most newspapers have, somewhere around the middle of their online announcement, used the excuse for launching a paywall that everyone else is doing it, so why not us? The Los Angeles Times, once a million circulation daily newspaper, used the excuse in their lede.

"The Los Angeles Times will begin charging readers for access to its online news, joining a growing roster of major news organizations looking for a way to offset declines in revenue," said the LA Times's Jerry Hirsch in the paper's online post announcing the paywall.

But actually you aren't supposed to call it a "paywall", Hirsch says, it is a "membership program" because if you sign up to pay the $3.99 per week for unlimited access to the LA Times website you will aslo get "retail discounts, deals and giveaways".

But you can call it whatever you want, it is still a metered paywall the LA Times is constructing. Web surfers who go to the LA Times site, but do not pay, will be able to access 15 stories in a 30-day period.

For now, those that are accessing the online news through the mobile phone or tablet apps will continue to get free access, though the company warns that they will charge in the future.

Inevitably, any news story about a new paywall always refers to the New York Times (or WSJ) – Hirsch's story is no different, mentioning that the NYT has signed up 390,000 digital subscribers. Most (actually all) newspapers are not the New York Times.

The Los Angeles Times is no local paper in some podunk town, however. Having competed against the LA Times while at Hearst, those of us with newspaper experience in Southern California have always been in mortal fear of the giant newspaper. But the paper has seen better days. Its daily circulation, according the LA Times own story, now is around 575,000 – this NYT story from 2000, shortly after The Tribune Company bought the paper, reported that the daily circulation had recently fallen to 1,033,400.

Sunday circulation has not fallen as sharply, though it is now just over 900,000. To give you some perspective, the LA Times first broke the one million circulation mark on Sunday in 1961.

Hirsch's LA Times story contains some interesting numbers from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That paper's paywall was launched on January 4th of this year.

According to the story, Elizabeth Brenner, publisher of the Journal Sentinel states that the paper has sold 8,800 digital subscriptions in the eight weeks since the paywall went up, and that 75 percent of those subscriptions were from outside the area.

I find that terribly interesting. Brenner, herself, attributes it to the Green Bay Packers.

"The reason is three words -- Green Bay Packers. That's what they want to read about," Brenner told the LA Times.

But if the number so far is 8,800, and only around 2,200 of these subscribers come from the local area, what does that say about the prospects of selling more local readers on paying for digital access?

On the bright side, the Milwaukee Brewers's Ryan Braun had his 50-day game suspension overturned yesterday. Maybe if the Brewers have a good season more people will pony up.