Almost a year after the L.A. Times started charging readers for online access, the Orange County Register jumped on the paywall bandwagon Tuesday.
The move comes as little surprise. Ever since Boston greeting-card executive Aaron Kusher took over the paper last summer, he has emphasized two things: expanding content and making people pay for that content.
“We put a lot of time, energy, and skill into writing, gathering, and editing,” Kushner told us in November. “Our subscribers should be the ones that benefit from that.”
One third of U.S. dailies now charge for online access, according to Ken Doctor, a media analyst at Outsell, a research and advisory firm.
“My guess is by 2015 we’re going to have a hard time remembering when newspaper produced news was free,” said Doctor.
He says there’s a reason so many papers are putting up paywalls: their most loyal customers don’t mind paying more, in some cases much more, for both digital and print content.
Doctor cites the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio. It doubled its subscription price and lost only eight percent of subscribers.
Seems like a no-brainer, then, right? Not quite.
Doctor says the problem with increasing prices is that new customers are scared away.
That’s especially true of a paywall as thick as the Register’s. Unlike The New York or L.A. Times, there’s no sampling allowed.
“How do you offer yourself to younger readers who are not used to paying for a news product? When you put a hard wall in place it’s going to push people away and limit their ability to be an on-ramp for the next generation of what we hope would be paying readers,” said Doctor.
For their part, the Register’s owners say a paywall is not only profitable, it’s equitable.
They argue it’s simply unfair to paying print subscribers if someone else gets the same content free online.