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Is Ohio.com Driving Away Online Readers?

By The Reverend Published: June 30, 2014

I must explain from the start that I have never owned, managed or published a newspaper. I mention that because it is always easier to criticize how someone else is running their business when you know little about that business yourself.

What I do know is that for the last decade newspapers have been losing subscribers to digitally-delivered alternative sources. The newspaper industry has been experiencing what horse-drawn carriage makers experienced long ago after the horse-less motor carriages began hitting the market....the threat of obsolescence.

Why pay for a subscription to a print newspaper when the national and international news stories a newspaper contains are always at least 24 hours behind digital news? That is the question print media has been struggling to answer. How to make their product relevant and economically viable when alternative digital sources are both more timely and cheaper for consumers.

That is a rock-and-hard-place problem which our own Akron Beacon Journal has been wrestling with for a number of years. Honestly, I sympathize with the Beacon publishers and those folks who work for the Beacon. It can't be any fun not knowing whether your job will still be there next month or next year.

I was away this weekend, but my blog blood-brother DukDukGus alerted me of this Beacon announcement......

On Tuesday, July 1, the Akron Beacon Journal will begin charging for online content on Ohio.com for nonsubscribers.

If you have a full or weekend-delivery-only subscription to the printed Beacon, nothing changes. Ohio.com will be fully available at no extra cost to those paid subscribers. If you are not a Beacon subscriber, your access to Ohio.com content will now be limited to 7 free "reads" per month. If you are not a Beacon subscriber and wish to have unlimited access to all Ohio.com content.....the cost to do so, beginning July 1, will be $11 per month....$132 per year, which, to be fair, is half the cost of a print edition subscription.

Allow me to illustrate why this won't help the Beacon. I am a hopeless blogger.....I have something to say about everything....just how I roll. And because I'm a bit obsessive, I read across the full digital content spectrum. BUT, I refuse to pay for digital subscriptions to the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal and other pay wall content providers. I just won't do it. It costs too much for my budget and I can usually read articles and columns from those sources somewhere else online....for free.

Now if an obsessive like me won't pay for online news content, how can the Beacon folks expect non-obsessive types to be willing to pay for that content?

The answer, I'm afraid, is....they won't. And those who will won't make a difference in the Beacon's bottom line.

Now the criticism. For years, while the online news "industry" has exploded, the Beacon has been slow to adapt. While fresh new online writers, like for example: Josh Marshall's TalkingPointsMemo site, have grown by leaps and bounds these past years, the Beacon has continued to stick with stale Village syndicated op-ed columnists like George Will, David Ignatius, Robert Samuelson, Michael Gerson, etc.

It would have been cheaper for the Beacon.....and more invigorating for readers....to reprint the occasional blog post from popular new media sites. And yet, I have never seen even one national blog piece ever reprinted on the Beacon op-ed pages. Even though conventional media refuses to acknowledge the impact nationally-popular bloggers have had on the "narrative"......make no mistake, below the radar it is the national bloggers who actually drive what we like to call the "debate." The Beacon, for whatever reasons, has pretended as if that is not the case.

As I've mentioned before, the Beacon's recent change to Facebook-only commenting for online readers has been a mistake as well. For just one example: Ohio.com went from 200-400 daily comments to the Letters-to-the-Editors.....down to 0-5 daily comments. That helps the Beacon, how? How important is "civility" if no one is talking? Combine that reality with the new pay-window announcement and one could be forgiven for thinking that the Beacon folks are actually trying to drive online readers away.

Again, I've been a Beacon reader since childhood. I hope those who direct the Beacon can weather the mighty storm of obsolescence that has been battering them for years now. But, I'm afraid that driving online readers away through pay windows and Facebook-only commenting is not the storm shelter they're looking for.

*I will be posting again today after the Supremes issue their Hobby Lobby ruling.

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