Are College Newspaper Page Walls Misplaced?

Are College Newspaper Page Walls Misplaced?
  • Opening Intro -

    It was bound to happen: a college newspaper, facing declining distribution for its hard copies, but seeing increasing interest in its online edition would begin to charge visitors to its website who want to access that content.

    After all, if The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal can charge visitors to access their content for a fee, then newspapers from Stanford to Rutgers should be able to do the same, right?

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Perhaps, but certainly with little realistic hope of making a financial killing. Instead, college newspapers are not likely to find pay walls profitable and may lose more readership, and money, then they can possibly gain.

The push to monetize online newspapers has been brewing for some time as media professionals fume at giving away content that was once dispensed for 50 cents or more per issue. Online advertising isn’t generating enough money to fund operations, forcing publishers to lay off staff and come up with other methods to attract visitors including farming out some of their content.[1]

College newspapers are a unique beast, the launching pad for aspiring journalists. Trouble is, many of those journalists when they graduate from college will be thrown into a world that won’t quite know what to do with them. Hard copy newspapers are a dying breed, print journalism of all kinds is fading and the online world of publishing is in a state of flux. Not exactly the most encouraging career path for future wordsmiths of the world to take, but the possibilities of landing a plum communications position with a Fortune 500 company is what drives some to continue down that road.

So, how on earth would the The Daily O’Collegian of Oklahoma State University think that it will succeed as the first pay wall model for college newspapers? After all, aren’t most students keeping up with each other and school activities via Facebook? Besides, newspaper staffs work for free and the overhead, as mentioned by Dan Reimold at Online Media Matters is a “pittance.”[2]

It seems that an ecommerce platform by the name of “Press +” has caught the attention of OSU media people who see this company as a godsend. Press + got started in summer 2010 and claims to have already pulled in 1,600 affiliates whose set-up allows “…publishers to choose and adjust multiple options for paid access continually, with each publisher selecting its own business model, offerings, and pricing.” A so-called “metered model” lets casual readers access any site for free while charging more “engaged readers” for access to these same sites.

The Daily O’Collegian at ocolly.com will be the very first college publication to use the Press + system on its website in the coming weeks. According to what they say is being planned, the newspaper will collect an undetermined, but small fee from online readers who reside outside the school’s immediate geographic area. Also being targeted are those readers who do not use an email address with an .edu affiliation and who read the The Daily O’Collegian online more than three times a month. Meter technology meets geo-targeting technology to come up with a way to charge readers.

Unfortunately, Cowboy nation may have overestimated its importance, equating the newspapers popularity with the football team’s gridiron prowess. College newspapers may have once served a purpose, but thinking that there is good money to be made from “engaged readers” seems to be a stretch. Sure, some journo student’s parent will likely subscribe, electronically acknowledging that their offspring is getting a byline and to encourage them in their craft. But, we’re talking about family members and not everyone else who will flock to free Google News to find Cowboy Nation material or to countless other relevant sites offering no charge access.

Hey, as a journalist I’m not against making money for what you write – but, when your staff works for free and you’re already charging them a mint for tuition, room and board, fees and textbooks, a pay wall for a college newspapers seems to be a bit of a stretch. The British “Times” erected its own pay wall and soon thereafter lost two-thirds of its online readership, a prospect OSU officials should consider before following through on their paid model.[3]

References

[1] Demand Media Studios: Demand Media Launches Content Channels

[2] College Media Matters: Oklahoma State Student Paper to Begin Charging Non-Local Web Readers

[3] The Observer: New Paywall Costs the Times 66% of its Internet Readership

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Categories: Campus News