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The Buffalo News and its Paywall

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In a column published online last night, Buffalo News editor-in-chief Margaret Sullivan announced that, beginning in the Fallthe Buffalo News will shunt much of its content behind a paywall. People who don’t subscribe to the print edition will be automatically given a digital subscription, and digital-only subscriptions will cost $2.50/week. If you don’t subscribe, you’ll get access to breaking news, classifieds, obits, “breaking news”, the “home page”, and 10 stories per month, using something similar to the New York Times model. 

I’m not a current subscriber, and haven’t bought a copy of the News in months. But I do check the website at least once a day, but I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll buy a subscription. I think that this change provides a unique opportunity for a free daily news entity to be developed in Buffalo, perhaps along the lines of a model called a “Local Media House“. The model relies on a democratized newsroom, technology, mobile site access, good design, experimentation on the web, and strategic partnerships with other media outlets.  The print product is a tabloid – not a broadsheet – “content is king, and design is queen”, they say in these Scandinavian outlets, which are doing remarkably well in a quickly changing news landscape. 

Is the Buffalo News still relevant to you on a daily basis? Do you subscribe? Do you read it every day, or just when you’re alerted to something interesting or newsworthy? Are any of the columns must-read? Features? Sports? Does the separation between the Buffalo News and Buffalo.com confuse you as much as it does me?  

UPDATE: The details of the paywall are now online, and several Buffalo News Tweeters are out defending this decision. Here are some things to consider: 

1. Author Jeff Jarvis has this to say about the perils of the paywall – the internet is about eyeballs, relationships, interaction, and Googlejuice. A paywall does harm to all of those things and imposes a print model on a digital product. 

2. The price to buy a paper copy of the Buffalo News – an item that has been printed by a state-of-the-art machine, manned by several people, and then bundled onto trucks and distributed throughout the area – costs 75¢. If you are not a subscriber and want one-day, pay-as-you-go, access to a single day of the digital Buffalo News – a product that no one prints or physically delivers – will cost you 99¢. 

3. Here are some selected Twitter reactions: 



  • Jesse Griffis

    Wow, that’s disappointing. If I hadn’t moved back home, I’d be pissed off. If you ask me, they’re just accelerating their own demise.

    I keep up with a lot of the local sports scene on the News mainly because it’s there and easy to reach. Paying for it? Not on their lives. I can get just as much or more from Twitter and a million blogs. They’ll just make me work a little harder to get it.

  • peteherr

    I cancelled my subscription during the Powers campaign, when I realized that they weren’t all that interested in real journalism. I usually only read the News for obits, and when someone else posts a link on Facebook or Twitter to a story that I am interested in. We’ll see how it goes once it comes online.

  • JoeGenco

    I subscribe to the paper. The news coverage is mediocre at best, but it’s my paper.  I’d love to know what some of the reporters do on a daily basis because the volume produced does not reflect full-time work. The Media House link you provided is interesting. The real trouble, in the Buffalo News approach as well as  Artvoice and WNY Media is revenue.  Volunteers usually do so because they like the way it makes them feel or they want their slanted views heard. Show me sustainable revenue and I’ll show you a sustainable product. The Buffalo News project so far appears to have neither.

  • Jesse Smith

    I do read the Buffalo News, but only via their RSS feeds where I can subscribe to just the subjects that interest me and not have to sift through the rest.

    I would be much more inclined to pay for reading the News if they hadn’t retired all of their decent journalists last year, leaving them with staffers that routinely make embarrassing spelling and grammar mistakes or write egregiously flimsy and lazy articles.

    It would be great if another general news daily stepped into the vacuum but I fear that ever since Craigslist took the money out of classified advertising, it has b-ecome increasingly difficult to run a profitable newspaper.

  • http://twitter.com/Brian_Castner Brian Castner

    I still got the physical newspaper every day until a year ago, when I backed off to Sunday mornings only. I still like to wake up on Sunday and read a big thick paper newspaper on my back porch with a mug of hot coffee. Its an aesthetic thing.

    In the News’ new model, getting Sunday Only means I get my digital subscription for “free,” or, in other words, nothing changes for me. I stopped getting the paper every day because I was wasting too much of my life reading the paper. It was physically in front of me, so I read articles on C4 I never would have otherwise. Moving to digital only has freed me from 30 minutes a day with the paper to 30 seconds, when I scan headlines. This is the trouble with the News’ content – they (the editors and writers) find it compelling because they are with it all the time. But it draws little over the electrons – they just don’t produce enough interesting stories regularly enough to be worth the daily effort. That may be more Buffalo’s fault than the News…..

    One last bit – their “Sunday Morning cheaper with digitial” model encourages you to get that paper and nothing else. Does the News really want to become a weekly magazine, with a shrunken daily online presence that posts high school basketball scores and obits?

    • http://blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/ Christopher Smith

      “I still like to wake up on Sunday and read a big thick paper newspaper on my back porch with a mug of hot coffee. Its an aesthetic thing.”

      I do as well and that’s why I subscribe to The New York Times. I couldn’t be bothered to buy The Buffalo News.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ccharvella Christopher Charvella

     Step 1: Find an old man with a subscription who hates ‘new-fangled’
    things like those fancy word processors all the kids are using these
    days.

    Step 2: Set up that old man’s log in ID. (I’m assuming that’s how they’re going to work this.)

    Step 3: Continue getting that sub-par TBN journalism for free.

    Step 4: Make fun of Bob McCarthy.

  • http://www.wedyn.com/2012/06/ram-charan-teja-marriage-photos.html Ram

    Even stranger than your last point- about the 75 cents versus 99- is this part of her sales pitch:

    The Buffalo News is offering a digital-only subscription for only $2.77
    per week, or $2.49 with Auto Renewal…. However, subscribers to the Sunday Buffalo News
    get the same access along with the highly valuable Sunday paper – an
    excellent deal at only $2.25 per week or $1.99 Auto Renewal.

    So, basically, Sulli, you’re offering to pay me tw0 quarters a week to allow a greasy pressroom full of compositors, and a ridiculously unreliable independent-contract driver, to dump your Sunday paper on the edge of my driveway once a week. 

    I’m sure it’s all about the circulation numbers and keeping Tops and the other old-world advertisers happy. If it weren’t, I’m sure they’d have some plan in place where we could direct those useless Sunday paper copies to a nursing home. Or better yet, to Sulli’s house.  Wonder what would happen if she got flash-mobbed with 1000 copies on her doorstep?
     

  • http://twitter.com/Beechsack Tom Beecher

    The only moderately interesting thing is the iPad app, but I don’t even think that is enough to get me to spend $2.50 a week. 

  • Mike_Chmiel

    Improve the level of journalism (currently wallowing in the tabloid vicinity) and you will get my business.

    However, I am willing to pay .99 cents a day if the News promises that I will never have to read another Donn Esmonde column again.

  • http://twitter.com/jen14221 Jennifer Wutz-Lopes

    My only comment is that I really really wish my Twitter name was Boner Shorts

  • http://blogs.artvoice.com/avdaily/ Christopher Smith

    I don’t think people mind paying for a product, as long as that product is worth their money. When negative feedback is received, perhaps the publisher, editors, and staff might want to listen to it rather than being dismissive and condescending. If people don’t value their product, that’s their problem, not ours. I don’t like being blamed for their inability to adjust to market trends.

    I enjoy the writing of several writers at The Buffalo News, but the company needs to re-evaluate the content, not the delivery mechanism if they want to expand revenue. They still view the publishing flow as “journalist —> newsprint —>website—>social feedback”. It should be “journalist—>social integration—>website—>social feedback—>newsprint”. If they want people to pay for a digital product, they need to make one. Don’t just give us an “e-version” of the daily newsprint. Include the audience in the production of news, use the network to amplify coverage, share information, publish to the web and then circle back and print something.

  • Thomas Schofield

    Reporter’s Desktop; Artvoice; Investigative Post; Washington Post; Toronto Star; Below the Falls; Buffalo Rising; Niagara at Large; Bullet News Niagara; Politics NY Net; New Politics WNY; Capitol Pressroom; NPR  … I must be missing something

  • Buffalo_Girl

    I love reading the paper.  I read a lot more news when I actually have the paper copy in front of me then I would if I just checked it online.  As someone said, it is my hometown newspaper, good or bad, it’s the one I want to read.  I do subscribe but only Sundays, so the online doesn’t change for me either. 

    Reading the paper version also gives me the opportunity to not stare at a screen.  With our TV, computer, phone and Kindle, I’m looking at one all day long and I like the feeling of not having to.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1682873234 David A. Steele

    The internet screwed istself early on when it gave away everything for free – Its a teabaggers’s heaven – except for all the Llllllibrrrulls 

  • Max Planck

    Will access to the Kunz Goldman videos still be free? Gee, I hope so.

    Seriously – this will accelerate the departure of BN’s existing readership. I touch it only briefly for Jeff Simon’s work but overall it’s hard to translate value to what they’re  offering.

    Uncle Warren better start accruing loss provisions for this endeavor…