One of the biggest issues being talked about on social media locally this week was The Commercial Appeal's announcement that, beginning Monday, only its subscribers — print and online — would be able to access the paper's website. In web jargon, it's called a pay-wall, meaning if you want to get the CA's online content, you're going to have to pay for it.
In a full-page letter to readers in Monday's paper, publisher George H. Cogswell III laid down the CA's new online strategy. Here's the money quote:
For anyone currently not subscribing, access to some stories will be limited. Headlines and classified listings will be viewable on CommercialAppeal.com and other mobile devices, but most content will be reserved for subscribers ....
Judging from anecdotal evidence on Twitter and Facebook, the roll-out of the new policy was anything but smooth. Many subscribers — including me — were unable to unlock the new system. Many of us got an auto-reply message on the site, stating, "We are unable to find your subscription." By the time you read this, the glitches will presumably have been worked out.
By changing commercialappeal.com to a pay site, the CA is intentionally reducing its web traffic. Not only will fewer people go to the site if they have to pay for it, this move will also kill most web traffic generated by people linking to CA stories on social media, blogs, other websites, and in emails, since many of those who might check out the links will not be subscribers. In short, the CA is eschewing potential global and national web traffic in exchange for monetizing its local content. The real bet is that this move will also encourage people to subscribe to the paper product in order to get the web content for free.
That strategy has worked pretty well for The New York Times, which initiated its pay-wall in 2011 and now claims to have 500,000 paid web subscribers and an uptick in paper subscriptions, as well. Of course, the Times is something of a national paper. Will the same strategy work in the Memphis market? We shall see. It's not too far-fetched to think that paid local web news could be the wave of the future. After all, as some have pointed out, we used to get television for free.
Have you looked at your cable bill lately?