Papers must charge for websites to survive

[Gerry Storch is editor/administrator of, a political discussion/media analysis site that bridges the gap between a blog and a book. He has been a feature writer with the Detroit News and Miami Herald, Accent section editor and newsroom investigative team leader with the News, and sports editor and business editor for Gannett News Service. He holds a B.A. in political science and M.A. in journalism, both from the University of Michigan.]

You don’t get free gas from a gas station.

You don’t get free meals from a restaurant.

You wouldn’t walk into the Googleplex … that’s Google’s corporate headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. … and expect a staffer to rush to the lobby with 1,000 free shares of Google stock for you.

At least we don’t think so.

So why is the newspaper industry the only one in America that is expected to give its product … in its electronic version … away for free?

Wrestling with that question will determine the fate of this nation’s newspapers.

Our answer: except for the “Big Four” national players, newspapers will not survive unless they 1) convert out of print and totally into the Internet, 2) confine themselves to local news and, most importantly, 3) charge for it.

Astonishingly … despite many erstwhile titans now tottering on the brink of bankruptcy or outright extinction … we’re talking about big ones like the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Rocky Mountain News, Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer … almost no one in the industry charges for their web site product. Even as they swirl down the drain, they give it away for free.

“Giving away information for free on the Internet while still charging 50 cents to $1 for the print version of the paper was one of the most fundamentally flawed business decisions of the past 25 years,” says Prof. Paul J. MacArthur, who teaches public relations and journalism at Utica College. “Newspapers told their paying customers that the information truly had no value. They told their paying customers that they were suckers. Why would anyone pay 50 cents for something he or she can get for free? This poorly conceived and obviously flawed strategy has helped put the newspaper industry into its current financial condition and hastened the demise of many publications.”

Prof. MacArthur is one of the experts across the nation who responded to my web site,, and our special project examining the future, if any, of newspapers.

Step 1: Papers are being overwhelmed by enormous newsprint, production and delivery costs … and a huge amount of staffing associated with them. All no longer needed.

Newspapers can still “deliver” their product … instead of being flipped from a speeding pickup truck at 4 a.m. on or near a driveway, its content can be delivered electronically to a customer’s computer or to a portable wireless electronic reading device such as Amazon’s Kindle.

What’s more, “content providers, once called newspapers, are experimenting with on-demand delivery particularly to mobile telephones,” says Michael Ray Smith, communications professor at Campbell University. “Telephones are computers and computers make moving information more convenient than ever. In some cases, information alerts and bursts can be downloaded from a source at work or home or even in transit and then read while on the road.”

Let’s hope that papers have a heart and offer the best severance packages and retraining possibilities they can to their blue-collar workforce, many of whom tend to be long-term, loyal employees.

But obsolescence is obsolescence.

Oh, yes, the four papers that probably can survive in print … of course they’re USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

They’re in the right place … “I see New York and Washington always having newspapers because they are the seats of financial and political power,” says David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, an influential public relations firm in D.C.

They have a national base in their financial and/or political reporting and an affluent readership that surely is strong enough to keep them going.

Step 2: Carve out a niche that makes the paper’s web site dominant, irreplaceable and one of a kind.

“I would like to offer a two-word solution to the financial woes of our ink-stained friends: ‘local news,’ ” says business consultant Jonathan Stark, who has consulted for a number of U.S. papers. “Newspapers have real roots in the communities they serve. They have history, tradition and personal relationships. In some cases, they are a source of local pride. If newspapers are willing to let go of their print-based history, invest in their writers, embrace technology and dedicate themselves to being THE source for local news, they will have readers for as long as people can read.”

Who else can do it better? Local TV station news anchors and skimpy throwaway weekly papers can’t. They feed off the big local paper anyway.

While papers have cut their editorial staffs not only to the bone but inside the bone, there’s no excuse for them not coming up with a dynamite local news website. That’s because they can reallocate the staffers who work in national or international news or other areas of the paper to the local effort. Go for it … marshal all the resources into this one specialty. Local news, local features, local business, local sports, local commentary. If necessary, use “citizen journalists” for neighborhood news. Cover the community top to bottom.

This is not only a financial and logistical advantage. It creates a journalistic improvement, too, as news can be instantly added and obsolete or inaccurate information removed. The expertly crafted story or hard-charging enterprise piece or beautiful set of photographs can remain on the site for readers’ enjoyment for a while instead of becoming tomorrow’s bird cage liner.

In doing so, it would behoove the papers to play it straight. Millions of readers have deserted newspapers in disgust over political agenda-driven reporting.

Step 3: How much to charge? The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, one of the few if not the only sizable metro paper to charge for its web site, makes readers pay $4.95 a month. Since that’s about 16 cents a day, we’d say it’s far too low. We’d make it a nice round number, easy to remember … $20 a month. That hopefully would bring in a substantial amount of revenue.

Readers, of course, have become conditioned to free content on the Internet. Many expect it, some stridently demand it. Can that habit be broken?

“The only way you can charge online is if you have something so special that no one else can re-create it,” says Paul Swider, a former St. Petersburg Times reporter who also did a citizen journalist web site for the paper. “Don’t charge for national politics because there’s 1,000 other outlets to which the reader can turn, so you’re done. But if you have a synthesis or data or other unique quality of content that others can’t duplicate, you could charge for it and succeed.”

That means local news.

And what of the current business model of newspapers … the one that has them give content away free on the Net in hopes of luring huge number of readers and the attendant “page views” to lure advertisers. Well, if it works, why are so many papers failing?

Papers should do both … charge for their content and work hard to get advertising on the site. Wouldn’t a lot of advertisers prefer quality over quantity in readership … wouldn’t potential business customers be a lot more likely to be those who pay for the paper instead of those who freeload?

Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Democrat-Gazette, noted in an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal in 2007 that the U.S. newspaper industry collectively spends about $7 billion a year to gather news. “By offering this news for free and selling it to aggregators like Google, Yahoo and MSN for a small fraction of what it costs to create it, newspaper readership and circulation have declined,” he wrote. “Why would readers buy a newspaper when they can get the same information online for free?”

He added this point: ads have much more impact in print than on a computer screen. “While consumers often find pop-up ads a distraction (on a web site) and banner ads as more clutter, readers often seek out the advertising in newspapers.”

Hussman’s paper, incidentally, while not exactly flourishing, has suffered much less advertising and circulation declines than most other of his peers. Since Hussman whipped the much larger Gannett in Little Rock’s famed newspaper war of the early ’90s, we’d say he knows how to survive in this business.

Which brings us back to our original question: why do people expect newspaper web sites to be free?

And there’s no good answer. The so-called experts use airy, meaningless phrases like “because that’s the Internet culture” as if this notion just floated down from heaven somehow.

In fact, that’s how Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who benefits immensely from basically free news, views it. In an interview with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, he actually said, “the culture of the Internet is that information wants to be free.”

Information doesn’t want to be free any more than gasoline wants to be free or food wants to be free. When Mr. Schmidt stands in the lobby of the Googleplex and hands out free shares of his company stock, then maybe we can believe the “free” rationale. Until then, papers should charge for what they do so they don’t go out of business. Simple as that.

About Gerry Storch

I was sports editor and business editor of Gannett News Service in the USA Today headquarters in McLean, Va., when I and a number of colleagues took buyouts at the end of 2001. Before that, I was a feature writer at the Detroit News and Miami Herald, and Accent section editor and newsroom investigative team leader at the News. I hold a B.A. in political science and M.A. in journalism, both from the University of Michigan.


  1. Did somebody flunk Economics 101? The main reason that almost all newspapers have been unsuccessful at charging for online access is simply Supply & Demand economics.

    A person who wants daily changing information in printed text format generally has few choices: one or perhaps two local newspapers (more only if he lives in one of a half dozen U.S. cities) plus the locally distributed copies of the national dailies NYT, WSJ, and USAToday. That relative scarcity — only a few choices — creates enough value that some people are still willing to pay 50 cents to $1 for a printed edition (though fewer and fewer are still willing to do so).

    In contrast, people who want daily changing information in text format online have access to every newspaper Web site in the world and to daily changing texts on every broadcasters’ and magazines’ Web sites in the world. That cornucopia creates a surplus, indeed a surfeit, and drives the value that any consumer is willing to pay for the information so low that it is negligible. (Surveys of consumers earlier this decade showed that the most any were willing to pay for access to daily newspaper Web sites was $1 per month and the median was about half that: about a 1.5 cents per day).

    Moreover, too many supposed experts forget that the traditional newspaper’s package of international, national, regional, and local news ‘unpackages’ when put online (as Evan Schwartz ably pointed out in his book ‘Webonomics’). For example, some people in Utica who want to read international and national news in printed format might be willing to buy today’s edition of the Utica Dispatch (although they might instead buy the NYT,WSJ, or USAToday), but nobody is really going to go to the Dispatch’s Web site for international or national news — not when those people have immediate access to Web sites of NYT, WaPo, USAToday, CNN, etc. As the OJR article indicates, this means the traditional newspaper’s package becomes reduced only to its core competency (local news in the case of the Utica Dispatch). For this fraction of his traditional news package, why would any publisher think that he’s going to get anywhere near what he charged for the entire traditional package? This is another reason why the value of a traditional newspaper is so much less online.

    Look at the results of those who have charged. There are approximately 1,430 daily newspapers in the U.S. Most have wanted or tried to charge online for their content. Only 32 still do. The largest is WSJ — a business journal, not a general-interest daily (at least, not yet, Rupert). Nevertheless, it’s not been able to find more than 900K people worldwide, less than half of its print circ., willing to pay. The Little Rock paper the OJR article cites is the next largest. However, the other 30 are newspapers with less than 40K weekday circ. and almost all in geographically remote areas where there people have little other sources of local news. Even NYT, arguably the premier newspaper title in the world, knows that the economics of charging online are pyhrric, and has withdrawn even its attempts to charge only for its archives and columnist.

    Newspapers aren’t giving away their news online for free because people have grown used to such information being free. The reason why instead is because the principles of economics make it largely impossible.

    – Vin Crosbie, Adj. Prof. Visual & Interactive Communications and Senior Consultant on Executive Education in New Media, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University.

  2. David Westphal says:

    There are very good arguments in each of the posts above. My addition to the discussion: It may be too early to tell whether news creators will be able to charge for their content. One reason I say that is that, although there have been major staff cuts (and newshole cuts) at many newspapers, the essence of what they present their hometowns is not fundamentally different. That could change, and so with it the incentive for a community citizen to pay for relevant information. (Whether pay-to-play, membership model or whatever.)

    I’m not predicting this will happen. I think it’s quite possible that even as legacy media pull back, enough new content creators will emerge (along with new structures and ways to exchange information) that the economics Vin Crosbie cites won’t change fundamentally — news continues to exist in surplus. And indeed the average experience for a community resident may be far better, with dozens of local channels available that provide deep information and a way to contribute to the pool. And you may not have to pay a dime.

    Right now, though, we don’t know. Seems to me we’re too early in the process of this media transition to know for sure how the public will react to the sea changes ahead. Making final judgments now, when basically all that’s happened is that old media continues on and new media is a freebie bonus, may be jumping the gun.

  3. Even if this statement was meant as hyperbole (which it does not seem to be) it would be wrong:

    “So why is the newspaper industry the only one in America that is expected to give its product … in its electronic version … away for free?”

    Not to be trite but so far today I have gotten free news and weather from my TV, free traffic reports from my radio and free movie listings from a local weekly paper.

    Seems like charging for information might be the exception not the rule in many cases.

    And, in terms of the ‘big ones’ of newspaper publishing being in dire straits: is that because they did not charge enough for print and online subscriptions or because of the massive consolidation and drunken spending spree they pursued over the past 20 years?

    Take a look at the circulation vs. population charts over the past 50 years. Our real readership has been declining since the 1940s.

    It would be nice to blame it all on the ‘free’ Internet but that just is not the case. So – let’s get over it and build some audience, sell some ads and get on with the journalism.

  4. says:

    Wow. Complete ignorance on display here.

  5. says:

    Two minor examples of companies that give their product away for free, chump-boy. Broadcast television. Broadcast radio.

    What about ‘advertiser-friendly’ don’t you get? Or perhaps it is that the old model, where monopoly rent allowed the newspaper publishers to support a bloat-heavy superstructure, is addictive.

    Get real. The ‘job bank’ is over at Chrysler, Ford, GM, too.

  6. says:

    It costs more to assemble, produce, print and deliver printed newspapers than the companies receive in circulation revenue. That means the news is (and almost always has been) free. Hell, more than free: it’s subsidized.

    This is so simple. How can so many smart people get it wrong so persistently?

  7. says:

    This is a tactic that has worked so well for the Music Industry. Buller, Buller?. Frey?

  8. Vin is absolutely right in his analysis here.

    As another Web journalist just commented to me, Storch’s blog post would be a radical proposal — ya know, if it was 1997.

    Every now and then a blog/article/column pops up with the “we just have to make people pay for content and everything will be just hunky-dory.” Then we get one isolated example and “all we have to do is do this.” It’s an argument that is rooted in the past — past business models, past business practice, and, well, just the past.

    Pandora is out of the box. And, she isn’t coming back.

    In the summer of 1996, many major Web sites rushed onto the Web, fighting for the right to be ‘first.’ It was then that the decision was made to provide content for free (with the exception of some, like the WSJ.)

    13 years later, that decision is coming to bear, but blog posts like this and others make it appear as if this business crisis with newspapers has just happened overnight. That’s just not the case. Newspaper publishers and business managers are paying for a lack of foresight, innovation and anticipation. The minute Craig’s List came on the scene, newspaper publishers should have known the old business model was dead.

    But, it’s not a time to live in the past. Coming up with new models is the way go. Be innovative. Be creative. Get outside the box. To paraphrase David Cohn, the found of Spot.Us, now is the time to experiment with different models. Only a handful may get traction but that is part of the new model as well.

    Churning your wheels for ways to get people to pay for content? Well, we all long for the “good old days,” but they’re past.

  9. says:

    Interesting. It seems there’s a fundamental (and seemingly willful) misunderstanding of business models here. The most blatant being the example of Google handing out shares of stock. Stock is not Google’s product. Even worse

  10. says:

    I work for a paper of around 30,000 circulation. We charge $5/month for online access of local news and sports. We have fewer than 600 paid subscribers for this service. I don’t think that is going to keep the business solvent.

  11. Aaaaaaaauugh. Aaaaaaaaauugh. Aaaaaaaauugh.

  12. David Weinstock says:

    FALLACY #1:

    I thought this was a pretty good analytical piece until I came across that same old piece of tripe all newspaper people dish up and expect readers to relish:

    “Who else can do it better? Local TV station news anchors and skimpy throwaway weekly papers can’t. They feed off the big local paper anyway.”


    This is a fairly typical fallacy held closely to the breasts of nearly every daily newspaper person I have ever met.

    Like it or not, there are a lot of very good weekly newspaper organizations out there in the world that got their start serving markets too small for the bigs to bother about. After a number of successful years, they usually start to encroach on the bigs’ territories.

    And there are lots of good local TV broadcast news operations out there that beat newspapers to the story every single day. And then, they beat them again with updates throughout the day.

    Why do you think there are so many TVs in news rooms these days? For the soaps? Newspapers leech so many stories from their local broadcast competitors and vice-versa that it can only be described as a symbiotic relationship.

    FALLACY #2

    “And there’s no good answer. The so-called experts use airy, meaningless phrases like ‘because that’s the Internet culture’ as if this notion just floated down from heaven somehow.”

    Actually, this is a very good answer. You can cry foul until the cows come home, but this culture exists and those who choose to ignore it, are doomed to be swept away.

    Your column advocates cultural change. Admit it and a lot of that Internet angst you’re feeling will just drift airily away.

    The real problem here, as I see it, is that it is both easier and more preferable for people under the age of 44 (the average age of U.S. newspaper readers) to watch the news rather than read it.

    Then there is that other HUGE slug of America who is not interested in the news…period. The ugly question there is: “Do they hate the news or the news media?”

    I would commend your attention to some studies done by the Pew Internet and American Life Project ( … yes, it’s some of that nasty, free Internet information. There are some pretty good studies on that site that indicate a general national decline in interest in all kinds of news.

    Me? I think people hate to read…and a column that embraced the reality of that would be a helluva thing.

  13. Of course they have to charge for the paper otherwise not only do they go out of business but even the middlemen, the small shop owners who sell the papers will go down.

  14. Most of the readers of this column apparently want to throw flames without offering an alternative. No one’s arguing that charging for online access will solve all our problems. The circumstances and marketplace are complex and require a sophisticated response. But online ad rates that are quite literally disappearing as we speak won’t support journalism, at least not any time soon.

    May I suggest some house rules?

    1. Let’s begin any discussion of this issue by acknowledging the vast difference between the 100 or so large newspapers in the country and 1,000 or more newspapers serving smaller, more isolated markets. The issues between large and small markets couldn’t be more different.

    2. People who disagree with someone’s position are obliged to proffer a better one, complete with a quantifiable defense of the alternative business model. Simply suggesting that someone’s position is “so 20th Century” is lazy and not helpful.

    3. Let’s agree that there’s not going to be a silver bullet. We’re going to have to try many different approaches in various combinations before we discover a workable business model, and there may yet emerge any number of business models that apply to particular kinds of markets.

    4. Let’s celebrate and encourage contrarian thinking. Taking a series of uniform approaches is one reason we’re in this mess.

    Personally, I think some combination of online subscriptions, ad bundling that includes print and various non-print options, and the continued production of a compelling print product for the foreseeable future will likely be the ticket for most small- and medium-market newspapers where, yes, the standard for good, comprehensive and compelling journalism is still set by the local “paper.” If, indeed, we’re not producing a local news product that is unique and compelling, none of the rest of this matters.

    Roger Plothow
    Editor and Publisher
    Post Register
    Idaho Falls, ID

  15. The author apparently forgets that a newspaper’s product is not paper, nor even news. It is and has always been readership. And you give readership away for free when you stick your content behind a paywall.

    Note that is a precisely opposite outcome to the author’s thesis.

    As another commenter pointed out, the news has always been given away free. Even a subscription to a print newspaper only helps offset the cost of that outdated and environmentally unsound delivery method.

    As someone once said – I wish I could remember who – never in history has a company amassed a huge audience and then failed to make money from it. That is the business any content provider should be in, despite these incessant squawks to the contrary. And a large audience for news will fail to be amassed if it is hidden in private little walled content gardens.

    The web is built on documents and links between documents. Just ask Berners-Lee, who invented it, and should know. Paywalls discourage links, and so are anathema to the web – probably not a good way to conduct business on the web, right?

    So while I agree whole-heartedly that newspapers should get out of print and focus on developing audience on the web, I think constant attempts to revive paywalls run counter to the cause.

  16. Do you realize that Google gives it’s main product, search, away for free?

    Also, newspapers make their money off of advertising, not subscriptions.


  17. Anyone who thinks newspapers can survive on local content needs to spend a few weeks on Twitter. Here is a medium where news arrives in near real time, is reliable (since misinformation is rapidly corrected by others), and relevant. This applies just as well in a global environment. I have seen real reports from people on the scene of demonstrations in Thailand and Athens, and learnt about the supply of gas from Russia to Slovakia from people in cold buildings. Twitter and similar channels tell me about traffic jams on my route downtown, about power outages and emergencies in ways that no newspaper or even television station can ever dream of achieving.

    Twitter has merely brought something that has been happening for a very long time into the mainstream. As a case in point, I learnt about the death of Princess Diana via an international online chat almost three hours before the local media picked it up. This is a decade ago. Times have changed.

    Information is now free it and will remain so. Any attempt to charge for access to it is absolutely doomed. The only hope that news media, particularly “print” media have for survival is by adding value. This means aggregating sources, adding perspective, and performing astute analysis. Even so, most of the revenue from these activities will be derived from online advertising, and those revenues will be orders of magnitude below what the industry currently sees as normal.

    The newspaper as we know it is dead. There is no model that will resuscitate it, period. Rigor mortis has set in, the patient just doesn’t fully realize it yet.

  18. Well, now, THAT’S more like it… :

  19. (to all) Thanks to OJR for publishing my modest little article and to all who responded. Congratulations to OJR for a well-done, thought-provoking site.

    I’ve been out of the journalism biz for more than seven years now … and glad of it. It must be miserable to still be in it. Sometimes an outsider can see things more clearly than an insider.

    I’m not an economist, not an Internet expert. I’m just trying to write common sense. If I’m a newspaper publisher and I and almost all my colleagues around the nation are failing with Plan A, I would at least seriously consider a Plan B.

    To Mr. Crosbie: no, I did not flunk Econ 101. I took it at a better school than you’re teaching at. Let me try another way with you: I would liken a local-only paper web site to a newsletter. Newsletters are very focused and most are quite expensive. They might be a good business model to emulate. But then, you might be right and I certainly might be wrong. So I would say, sir, hire yourself to a paper and show us all how you guide it out of financial ruin.

    To David Westphal: David, I disagree that we’re “early” in the media transition. For all too many papers, they are late in the transition … i.e., about to fail. I just think they need to do something different and that is to stop giving it away for free.

    To Damon Kiesow: Damon, I don’t know about you but I don’t get my TV for free. I pay $123 every month to Comcast (for cable TV and Internet access). Otherwise, I wouldn’t have TV (no rabbit ears). Similarly, isn’t conventional radio fading and being eased out by the pay satellite services?

    To Steve Fox: you’re only 100 percent wrong. The old model, the one that doesn’t work, is the give it away for free model.

    To David Weinstock: No way for me to disagree with you. I’m glad to hear there are plenty of good weekly papers and local TV news operations. All I know is, there were no good weekly papers in Northern Virginia when I lived there and no good ones in SW Florida where I live now. I’ve found it a waste of time to watch the local TV.

    To Tim Burden: ah, Tim, I didn’t see any link in your missive. I know links can be useful but are they really essential to communicating on the Internet since you yourself didn’t use one? (Unless I missed it and sorry if I did.)

    To Alan Langford: Your comment I found quite intelligent. I hope you’ll forgive me for disagreeing. To me, Twitter can augment how we learn what’s going on and in a few cases even be primary. I don’t see how it can be primary day in, day out on a multiplicity of local stories competing against a large, experienced staff of hopefully professional reporters. But I can’t prove I’m right or that you’re wrong. Technology can surprise and overwhelm us with its new directions and maybe you can see Twitter’s potential far better than I.

    To Roger Plothow: to you, sir, my best wishes. A good friend of mine still at Gannett tells me a new round of buyout offers is being readied for her staff and that layoffs will be imposed if not enough opt for the buyout. It is people like her, and you, I was thinking of when I wrote this. You are the only poster who is actually faced with these terrible questions of a paper’s survival. I only worked for the big boys … AP, Gannett, big papers … so I certainly accede to your feeling that it may take a combination of strategies for papers your size to keep going.

  20. says:

    Two other models reported by NPR, Jan. 30, 2009, in its evening radio newscast (underwritten by “listeners just like you” . . . well, that’s what the slogan says, but a little federal money is involved.)

    1) Donations. In the San Francisco area, a reporter is seeking donations to cover the city for one year. Novel idea.

    2) Another outfit uses contributions from readers to cover news. Readers can submit as little as $2 and once the pool of money is large enough, an editor will assign a reporter to check on the issue from problems with absenteeism at the Oakland Police Department, problems with clean water or conflict at the public school. The idea is that a news story cost a couple of hundred dollars in labor so once the money is raised, the reporter can be unleashed to do her work.

    Obviously, both of these models are controversial, but both show some enterprise in a day of reckoning for newsrooms.

    I would add one other model.
    I teach at a university. What would happen if we used our student reporters to cover the community? Would any organization join that cause as dangerous as it is?

    Michael Ray Smith
    [email protected]
    Campbell University in Buies Creek
    30 miles south of Raleigh, N.C.

  21. “To Tim Burden: ah, Tim, I didn’t see any link in your missive. I know links can be useful but are they really essential to communicating on the Internet since you yourself didn’t use one? (Unless I missed it and sorry if I did.)”

    Gerry: Is that an argument? Straw men burn easily. I never said links are essential for communicating on the web. What I did say was that you can’t have a web without links. Not the same.

    I didn’t realize you could use links in this comment system. So since you ask:

    Tim Berners-Lee in 1991: “The WWW world consists of documents, and links.”
    Me on this post (in which you will find more links)

    Even on the face of it a paywall business model cannot work. You can’t charge for a delivery system which is essentially free. You can’t charge for what others will provide for free. You can’t sell to advertisers a readership that you have intentionally kept small. You can’t conduct business on the web in a fundamentally anti-web way (for long).

    You also can’t support arguments with false premises. You said the newspaper industry is “the only one in America that is expected to give its product … in its electronic version … away for free.” But it’s not, broadcasters also do, in the exact same sense of “product” that you meant. (The actual product is readership – that is what is sold to advertisers.)

    Look, you’re obviously not some kind of anti-web curmudgeon, wishing the Internet would just go away so proper journalists can get on with things. Some of what you say is spot on. The first two parts of your formula – go printless, and go local – I think are exactly right.

    But waging technological warfare on readers with high-pressure vacuum seals around content just can not be the right way to go. It’s all about the readership numbers. Readership is the product.