Monday, April 04, 2011

San Francisco daily reportedly planning paywall

Led by a team of former Gannett executives -- including its publisher, Frank Vega -- Hearst Co.'s San Francisco Chronicle is considering a paywall as part of a broad, new digital strategy, according to a published report that cites staffers briefed on the plans.

Employees said they were told the paywall could be rolled out by the end of this month, "although the plan is understood to be in flux," said the Bay Citizen, a local online news site.

In a statement, Chronicle President Mark Adkins told the Citizen that the paper "is planning to offer the newspaper’s content through an application for use on the iPad and other tablet devices.” He declined further comment.

Nation's No. 24 daily
The Chronicle would be one of the largest dailies in the country to plunge into a risky paid online model when other publishers -- including GCI -- are still experimenting with paywalls. With a weekday circulation of 223,000 as of Sept. 30, the Chronicle ranked No. 24 among the nation's biggest papers. The Detroit Free Press was No. 20, at 245,326. The Arizona Republic, No. 14, at 308,973; and USA Today was No. 2, at 1.8 million.

GCI began charging for access to at least some content in early July at its papers in Greenville, S.C.; St. George, Utah, and Tallahassee, Fla. CEO Craig Dubow has not indicated when, if ever, any paywalls will be installed at other GCI papers.

Only a week ago, The New York Times erected a paywall, a move that is being closely watched because of the paper's outsized influence in the industry. The NYT ranked No. 3 in weekday circulation at 876,638.

Team Vega
Since Hearst named him the Chronicle's chief executive six years ago, Vega has effectively assembled a shadow, West Coast version of Gannett. For example, Adkins worked for GCI for 23 years, the last as vice president of advertising, responsible for strategic and sales oversight of the company's then-90 U.S. local dailies. He joined Hearst in 2005.

In 2009, Jeff Bergin was named the Chronicle's senior vice president of advertising. Bergin had been head of ad sales for GCI's newspaper division since January 2002. In 2008, Vega poached top editor Ward Bushee from the Arizona Republic to run the Chronicle's newsroom.

Vega himself came to Hearst from the GCI-controlled Detroit newspaper publishing partnership. He was a key member of the team that developed the concept for USAT leading to its 1982 launch.

[Image: today's Chronicle, Newseum]


  1. Big mistake. There are just too many alternative sources for news in San Francisco for this to work. We seem to still be basking in the belief we have a lock on advertising and readers will have no alternative but to get a newspaper for local news and ads. But the Internet has opened up other avenues that in many cases are better for advertisers because they can target their messages. We also are not attracting the demographics advertisers covet. And readers can easily go elsewhere to free sites run by TV or radio stations which already pick up the local news by rewriting the local paper, and carry national wire stories. I see this paywall experiment only as a recipe for quicker extinction.

  2. Imagine that Coca-Cola Co. gave away it's product for years, free of charge -- all the while diluting the ingredients and making it more and more tasteless

    Then, and only when it was flavorless, Coca-Cola started requiring consumers to pay for it -- and without any promise of improvements.

    That's where I see newspapers today.

  3. Don't forget Kelly Harville the Crons Marketing Chief is also a former Gannett marketing multi-Presidents Ring winner.

  4. FYI - bergin was not head of ad sales at gci in 02, he was brought in to assist in the roll out of stinson's rate matrix program where he could travel around the country spreading the success of selling to lumpy's golf.

  5. It's not only newspapers. Magazines have become so vapid and colorless that I no longer bother reading Time or Newsweek. I still have a subscription to the Economist because the quality of that news operation generally hits a very high standard and it fills in gaps I don't get from TV or a newspaper. The Economist's American coverage is quite good and original and I see their U.S. circulation is increasing. But Newsweek now seems to be in the midst of rebranding itself as a woman's magazine, and is sacrificing other coverage for that goal. I guess they just don't want my subscription anymore.

  6. Look at the quality stuff you can get all over the Internet. Sure there is a lot of garbage, but there are also some really intelligent blogs written by experts in the narrow fields they are covering.

  7. 9:12 - So right on the Lumpy's thing!

  8. I'm paying for the NYTimes print and will get the digital for free. People will pay for things they want (NYT still ranks high for me in terms of journalism). Time will tell. Newspapers don't have a choice but to test the waters at this stage. If it works, every single blog will be charging too. you watch.

  9. 9:12 and 1:51 -- What's the story behind the Lumpy's Golf thing?

  10. when jeff was in fort myers as a territory manager, he sold the client an ad program that worked - he used that as a success story at corporate over and over and over for at least a couple of years. Lots of mileage out of that. Like that was the only program anyone ever sold for years.

  11. People will give money for value. But they want something in return. I see shoppers buying supermarket tabloids I would never want to see on my bathroom floor. The big question is are newspapers providing sufficient value, and if paywalls result in lower readership (which they do) then how much does that cost in advertising revenues? There is a balancing act here, and we are not yet far enough into this new system to know where it is.

  12. We should remember that the Internet does not come cost free to readers compared to newspapers. There are monthly connection fees, plus costs of new equipment on a two-year or three-year cycle. You put nickel and dime fees on top of that, and there will be a backlash because people will realize they have already a significant investment they have already made. For paywalls to work, I think everyone would have to impose them, and I do not see that happening.

  13. Frank of many who have failed upward.


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