Number crunchers

Press Releases
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  July 23, 2014

The Portland Press Herald’s paywall experiment is off to a good start, says Lisa DeSisto, CEO of MaineToday Media and PPH publisher.

As of July 1, the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel no longer offer unlimited free online content; after you’ve exhausted a 10-article-per-month limit, you’ll need to subscribe to read any more. Subscription packages run from $8 per month (for Sunday print delivery plus full online access) to $17.99 per month (for 7-day delivery), and some content remains free and accessible—obituaries, blogs, photo and video features, and, the company’s rah-rah arts and entertainment site.

(In addition, savvy readers have discovered a loophole: the 10-article limit applies separately to each device and even each browser that you use; if you access the site from Firefox, Safari, and Chrome on your phone, tablet, and laptop, you could read dozens of article without hitting the paywall.)

“We’re very encouraged,” she says, noting that as of last Thursday night, the PPH (along with its sister papers) had 1500 new subscribers, with about half of those having selected some combination of print and digital access. These numbers “exceeded projections,” DeSisto says, and are a reflection of the pricing structure—it’s cheaper to get the Sunday paper and digital access than to select the digital-only subscription.

That’s because, as DeSisto confessed in her “Letter from the Publisher” announcing the changes, “We really want you to get our Sunday paper delivered to your home! The Maine Sunday Telegram continues to carry the majority of our advertising with that healthy pile of retail inserts. Our pricing has been structured to encourage readers to get the Sunday paper.”

In a highly critical blog post, Maine PR guy Dennis Bailey wrote: “This effort to force people to take Sunday delivery of the actual newspaper for the sake of their advertisers (and the accompanying revenue) is unlikely to reverse that [downward] trend and completely ignores how a growing number of people prefer to get their news today. It’s yet another attempt by ‘big journalism’ to cling to its glorious, ink-stained past rather than fully face the online future that awaits. They need to give it up.”

Newspapers and old-school print journalists need to completely reconsider how people consume news and content today, Bailey writes. “A la carte is the new content model, and not just on Netflix but on Apple TV, HBO Go (another provider with a paywall that’s easily compromised), Amazon Fire and more.” Among his prescriptions, Bailey tells the Press Herald to “end weekday print editions of the newspaper and go to a Sunday only edition.”

I asked DeSisto if the MaineToday team had or would consider such an option. Her response is vehement: “We are a long way from that.”

>> And hey, at least the Press Herald still has a statehouse bureau.

A new report released earlier this month found a “substantial decline” in statehouse reporters over the past decade, with less than a third of US newspapers assigning any kind of reporter (full- or part-time) to cover affairs at the capitol building (including legislative activity, the governor’s office, or the work of state agencies).

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