Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tallahassee | Exhibit A for lowering the paywall

The Tallahassee Democrat has its hands on a national story about the possible hazing-related death of a member of Florida A&M's famed Marching 100 band -- a story that could generate hundreds of thousands of additional pageviews for the newspaper as the scandal deepens.

Yesterday, school President James Ammons fired the band's long-time director. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to join the investigation of Robert Champion's death Saturday after A&M's annual Florida Classic football game.

That's all according to Democrat reporter Jennifer Portman.

But I had to read a version of her story on USA Today's homepage because the Democrat can't seem to lower its paywall -- if only for all its hazing stories.

Other media, including The Wall Street Journal, selectively lower paywalls on stories of special interest. Doesn't the Democrat's technology allow the paper to do that, too?

Related: The Democrat's circulation is 32,673 on weekdays, and 46,138 on Sundays, according to the ABC's database.


  1. Seems to me you're making a pretty good argument for leaving the paywall up.

  2. What is the financial incentive to lower the paywall on this story? I'm surprised more papers don't create a paywall just for breaking news and special reports.

  3. How interesting. I didn't know other sites lowered their paywalls for high-interest stories. I'm sure the Democrat could do that, too. Maybe no one's minding the shop due to the holiday? Not that that makes it right.

  4. If Gannett's paywalls -- put up at three newspapers in July 2010 -- were succeeding, we would have heard more about them by now.

    But the last time Corporate provided a public update on the experiment's status was in July 2010, during the second-quarter conference call with media stock analysts.

    Now-CEO Gracia Martore told that conference:

    "The most important thing that you need to focus in on is that those folks who are paying, are paying for content. They are absolutely passionate about and that the level of engagement and time spent on those sites is several times what it is on a normal website. So incredibly high engagement and we're working on a number of other items right at the moment. A few more tests and a few other things that will result in us looking at this in a more meaningful way as the year progresses. But it's a little early for us to share any more details."

    Now, Chief Technology Officer David Payne no doubt began examining their effectiveness after he got hired in March. Perhaps he wants to tweak them further. Or maybe he wants to leave everything as is while he leads the relaunch of the U.S. newspaper websites.

    But time is of the essence in the digital age. It's been 17 months since GCI erected paywalls in Tallahassee; Greenville, S.C., and St. George, Utah. Contrast that with YouTube, which was launched, built out, and then sold to Google for $1.7 billion -- all in just 21 months.

  5. Left out of the USAT story: Two previous incidents of documented hazing by FAMU band members. AP included that important detail in their story:

    The Atlanta Gannett TV station even interviewed the victim from 1998, whose name ironically is Luckey.

    They could have dropped the paywall on the story. They've done that in the past.

  6. Both PageViews and Daily Visitors at one of the sites have been trending down for the last few months about 4-10%, my corporate source tells me.

    No surprise, as content creators have been let go to shore up the bottom line.

    And pay for CD's exit.

  7. Jim, if you believe they're printing anything close to 46,138 on Sundays, then I have a lovely condo I'd love to sell you for only $2M.

  8. The simple way around the paywall is to go to the Democrat's mobile site,

    Not all content (blogs, for instance) is available there, but most news stories are.

  9. page views page views page money in page views my friend. Every newspaper in the country has been trying to figure out how to monetize page views and the best GCI can come up with is "deal chicken"......Keep the paywall up, protect the product that delivers 90% of the revenue. It's that simple despite what GCI and wall street tell you.

  10. Well, 2:38pm, their "latest" update on this local story is that AP is reporting that the family of the dead drum major is suing the university.

    So much for that notion.

  11. Paywalls. How ridiculous. News will find a way to get to consumers, and they won't pay for it unless they have to. And they will stop paying for it as soon as they can. That horse left the barn a dozen years ago, and its progeny has gone off and started whole new industries around digital content. And journalistically, Gone-nett ain't no triple-crown winner.

    Has anyone in the marketing or whatever department at Gone-nett ever deeply considered how completely negative the industry term "paywall" is to a customer? Its a "too little, too late" concept, and totally unenforceable. And Gone-nett will not pay for the lawyers nor does it have the government influence to stop any wholesale redistribution of their digital content. In fact, these were the exact same arguments the news companies used to justify free access to their websites oh so many years ago.


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