August 31, 2009

Post Gazette Plus Subscription

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is launching a subscription-only, value-added web presence at midnight tonight.
PG+ will not replace, which will continue to offer the same breaking news, features and multimedia content as always. Rather, it will allow subscribers access to a new stream of exclusive blogs, videos, live chats and behind-the-scenes insights into the news of the day.

The new site, hosted by a team of PG bloggers, will emphasize user interaction, with commenting throughout the site. Members also will be able to create a social networking profile to keep the conversation going.

The content will be provided by some of the Post-Gazette's best-known personalities, including Ed Bouchette, Mackenzie Carpenter, Doug Oster, Gene Collier, Reg Henry and Jack Kelly.

What's Conventional Wisdom on Pay-for-Web-News?

The conventional wisdom consists of three words, three words which are even scarier than "starring Ben Affleck": Doomed to Fail. Rupert Murdoch keeps threatening to move his news content ("news content", seems like "cheese product" - its kind of cheese, but..) beyond a pay-wall. I notice that he hasn't found the right situation to actually do that, yet.

The New York Times experimented with this in their Times Select product. They moved their best content - the editorial writers, the blogs, reader comments - behind the paywall. Here's some of the talent: Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman. Total web eyeballs plummeted. Web ad revenue dropped. The subscriptions were not sufficient to justify the overall loss of web advertising. The NY Times was unable to make this work. (I really liked the Times Select product. My friend Mark bought a subscription. About a dozen of us used it.)

So, on the face of it, the Post Gazette appears to be betting that (1) they're smarter than Rupert Murdoch, (2) they're more webby than the NY Times, and that (3) Friedman, Kristof, Herbert and Krugman pale in comparison to Bouchette, Carpenter, Oster, Collier, Henry and Kelly. None of those propositions is true.

Let's Refute Conventional Wisdom

The P-G may get away with this, or at least get a one-year bounce out of it. In the current newspaper era, a one-year bounce isn't a bad thing, especially if you're trying to package the paper for a sale.

What does the PG have to lose?

If the PostGazette really does keep all it's present content free, and only puts additional, value-added content behind the pay-wall, they don't have much to lose. Normal web traffic should remain the same. If the incremental web traffic for PG+ is insufficient to pay the incremental salaries (which I bet is truly a relatively small amount), then there's not a lot of risk in this experiment; they can shut it down easily enough.

What will subscribers get?

Subscribers will get blogs, opinion, and social media - comments and discussion with other subscribers. This seems like a sure attraction for office workers that can't listen to talk radio at work, but have a web connection. That can't be too many people.

Timing is everything

Will the national attention on Pittsburgh for the G-20 bring a lot of subscribers? (Hint: Yinz can just read PghComet and Nullspace n'at.) Will the national focus on "the Pittsburgh Miracle" cause people from around the country to want to read what's going on? Will the Burgh's national sports visibility (football and hockey champions, and the Washington Wild Things) bring a desirable cachet?

A PG+ Formula: Hyperlocal + Diaspora + Geezer 2.0

How could PG+ succeed? I think a winning formula would require a financial committment to establishing hyperlocal news, subscription from the Diaspora, and bringing Geezers into Pittsburgh social media.

Hyperlocal news has been profitable by subscription. Hyperlocal news would, for instance, give us a news feed down to the specific neighborhoods. Instead of carrying Pittsburgh news and identifying it by neighborhood, "hyperlocal news" would have a blogger and a forum specifically covering Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar - and every other neighborhood. Perhaps you could configure your PG+ page to cover the neighborhoods that you live in, and the areas you and your spouse work in. In a city with such diverse and well-established neighborhoods, a hyperlocal news approach might succeed.

Will the Diaspora Subscribe?

If the Pittsburgh Diaspora (the legions who have left {for work, mostly} but still consider themselves Black and Gold) subscribe, this could be a successful adventure for the P-G. Just look at the list of Steelers' bars around the country.

Geezer 2.0

AOL was successful (for a decade) because it brought the web and webbish things to non-geeks. Your Aunt Mary could surf AOL and do email. The Geezer Demographic (which looks a lot like Pittsburgh) isn't tweeting, and they aren't into Facebook. If PG+ can bring "social-media-light" to the Geezers, they may have another profitable niche.

So, we'll see. Snarky prediction: Absence of a "two-day pass", like Salon uses, will keep people from buying something they cannot see; expect to see a "free look" option in 45 days. Unless they pursue the options above (hyperlocal, diaspora, geezer 2.0) this will struggle for eighteen months and then go away. Pundits will start referring to the "free" Post Gazette website as PG-Minus.

I wish them luck and success. They're not "too big to fail", but success of a local newspaper is important.

Click here for other Post Gazette Plus posts.


MH said...

I would like hyperlocal news. If I were doing it, I'd have columns called "Why was XXX street mucked-up?" and "Where did the tree hit the powerline this time?".

MH said...

And, "Who parks like an idiot?"

For next week, we're talking to the guy with the Red Bronco. Does he know what that yellow line on the curb means? Does he realize how hard it is to turn when somebody is parked 2 feet from the corner?

Bram Reichbaum said...

1. What do they have to lose? Plenty. Their most innovative stuff, that could score big but needs to develop an audience and buzz -- is stuck behind a pay wall. What does that decrease the percentage of exposures? 98%? There is no way to tell whether their new, exciting talent and endeavors are really any good or not.

2. Hyperlocal news doesn't grow on trees.

3. I'm not sure the social media element is going to be a big draw. It'd have to be pretty fantastic, and theoretically it could be. But between Facebook, Myspace and Twitter, people are pretty much social-media'd out.

Rupe said...

Call it "Fair and Balanced." Surely it will cut into the Trib's demo.

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