Newspapers such as my local Omaha World Herald are starting to experiment with paywalls. The basic premise is that print subscribers get free online access, while everyone else needs to pay $10/month for access. This raises a number of questions and has been analyzed bylots of smart people. Here are the questions I have for

  1. What does offer that I can’t get on a combination of free sources, such as the AP (for national news), (local news and commentary) and over-the-air TV (local/national news)? Bonus points if the answer doesn’t include the words, “Cindy Lange-Kubick.” Local commentary is not a business model by itself.
  2. How did you settle on $10/month? This invites the comparison to Netflix and Wall Street Journal, both of which charge around $8/month.
  3. Will you distinguish your digital offering, or are you sticking to a “print first” approach for all articles? For example, do you plan on having interactive infographics, long-form articles, blogs, wikis, an enhanced taxonomy and social content to make use of the medium? Or will you be following the inverted pyramid, strictly enforcing article word counts, and tacking on comments/discussion as an afterthought?
  4. Right now reading is a chore. The layout is not easy to navigate, there is a lot of scrolling to get to the narrow channel of content down the middle, and it is dominated by ads. How will this change when the paywall comes up? The type of readers who pay for content are the type who care about the experience of reading it.

The internet is changing the distribution methods for intellectual property. In the same way that Apple is succeeding with iPod and iTunes, Amazon is succeeding because they make it easy to purchase books and pleasant to read them on their device. Maybe newspapers could learn a thing or two from these models.

Posted Fri 01 July 2011