Helping answer some questions

Since tomorrow is the big day, Mike Klocke had to trot out a column defending the move to paid content. It continues his theme of most of his columns defending the latest way the Record is giving its customers the shaft. Most of the time these columns include corporate doublespeak about how eliminating the local section somehow marks a concentration on local news, and this column is no different. We almost FJM’d this. Almost. But, in the interest of space, let’s break down just some of the highlights.

Specifically, we’ll be looking at the questions asked by hypothetical readers that he attempts to answer. To Klocke’s credit, he attempts to answer them more honestly than Coozer tried, which is amazing considering he actually claims to believe this will work. But let’s run down the questions with summaries of Klocke’s answer with the real answer afterwards.

1. Why are you charging for online access?

Klocke’s answer: We’re a business and news is expensive

Real answer: Rupert Murdoch is making us because he’s not happy with the profit margins (more on those in a second). Also, it’s a poor attempt to force people to buy newspapers.

2. But why start now?

Klocke’s answer: Because we were dumb for giving it away for free in the first place.

Real answer: We didn’t give two shits about the internet until it was too late. Now we’re scrambling to cover our asses. Plus Rupert Murdoch isn’t happy with us just being slightly profitable, he wants “like the economy never turned to shit” profits and doesn’t care if he loses a few cowtown papers like The Record along the way.

3. Other newspapers’ sites are still free, what makes you so special?

Klocke’s answer:

“The Record is one of the first daily newspapers to establish a “pay wall” for its Web site. But virtually every newspaper company and many individual newspapers are working on similar models. They will be common before long.”

Real answer: It’s not special. That’s why the Record is trying this out for Dow Jones. If it fails like it did at the New York Times, Sacramento Bee, (but remember, the Record’s one of the first!)and pretty much every non-trade publication ever, it doesn’t matter. It’s just some podunk Stockton paper to corporate. Also, I highly doubt this pay structure becomes common among anything besides Fox-owned papers.

4. Who in their right mind would raise prices in this economy?

Klocke’s answer (no really, this was his answer): Local news is worth more than a cup of coffee.

Real answer: Because we’re fucking idiots. Also, Rupert Murdoch.

5. Won’t other newsy sites come along and do your job for a better price (free)?

Klocke’s answer (which you should really go read in full before it’s paywalled since he sort of mentions us): Well, yeah, but we’re better than them (which is true). And you value us more. No really, you do.

Real answer: Yes. Including our own blogs. Not to mention every one of our professionally trained competitors in Lodi, Tracy, Modesto, Manteca, and Sacramento.

(Quick note: What the hell is a “professionally trained journalist” anyways? I was a journalism major in college and have been published professionally, am I a professionally trained journalist?)

6. OK, fine. Give me a quick pitch for why I should pay for unlimited online access.

Klocke’s answer: Here’s a list of services that actually don’t fall behind the paywall (No really, his reasoning was to list a bunch of non-paywall services like the blogs).

Real answer: Just buy the paper instead, that’s the whole point.

7. What happens when this fails? Back to free content, right?

Klocke’s quoted answer with our comments in parentheses:

That is not our intention. As mentioned before, the trend in the news business is toward pay wall models. I believe it is here to stay.

Real answer: (Produces a sifter of brandy seemingly out of nowhere and spins around in office chair with a thousand-yard stare on face)

We’ve already gone over some of the more questionable decisions in implementing the paywall, but we haven’t really touched on the reason for the paywall. Let’s fix that.

In short, profit margins. Newspapers for a long time were a lucrative business venture because they almost always turned a huge profit. In 2007 Gannett-owned newspapers (not the Record’s owners, but still comparable) were enjoying double-digit profit margins. Anytime you have a business whose product is positioned as an essential public service, you’re going to make boatloads of cash.

Then the economy cratered and a lot of people had to take a tough look at their expenses. Were stories about Don Blount’s Book Club really worth it? That Record subscription could be a lot of gas money. So they went to the free site. Too many people undervalued the Record that, like at many papers, profit margins dropped. Papers are still profitable, just not at the ridiculous 20-30% rate they were previously doing. Rich investors whine about not being rich enough and cuts have to be made. That’s how newspapers contract multiple sections while raising prices (which we still can’t believe the Record did). All because rich dudes like Rupert Murdoch can’t wait out the recession like the rest of us.

Naturally, the easy fix to the problem is to charge for a service we were using because people undervalued their product so much they cancelled their subscription and went to the free place. This time the free place is exponentially larger than the last time we had to make the “Is this content worth paying for” decision, and the Record gets none of the ad revenue. Oh well, it was good having a local paper while it lasted.

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~ by Slick Diaz on January 11, 2010.

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