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Regional goes digital first behind paywall

As of next week you have to subscribe to the print version of Schibsted Norway's regional Faedrelandsvennen if you want to read the full online version. 

The good news is that print subscribers get full access to all content regardless of the platform, and all content will be available for them online first.

The bad news is that you need to subscribe to the print paper to be able to access anything but a limited selection of news online. Oh, and ads will feature both on paid for and free online news, though the newspaper promises more "local and relevant ads" behind the paywall.

The backdrop is dwindling print subscriptions and an increase in non-paying online readership - as for so many other newspapers. So can forcing those who want full online access to subscribe to the print paper put the genie back into the bottle?

Personally I very much doubt it, though it has to be said I'm not your average media consumer. I consume a lot of media daily, but most of it online or on a mobile device such as iPad or smartphone.

I love nothing better than to huddle up with with all the print papers on a lazy weekend or on a long train journey, but I've normally got little time for print on weekdays - it will just end up cluttering my home, and I'd rather read the iPad version when time is an issue (this is also related to me mostly working from home - so no commute most days, and I kind of prefer mobile news for short commutes anyway).

As a result, bundling print with the online and iPad versions is the opposite of a sales argument for me.

This is why I won't subscribe to the iPad version of Schibsted-owned Aftenposten which bundles it with the print newspaper. I grew to like Aftenposten on iPad while testing it, but getting the print paper every day is just too much paper - and the bundled package too expensive.

Perhaps it's a good deal for a family fighting between each other to read the newspaper every morning, but for me it's a no go. So me, I'm sticking to my daily routine of skimming through VG's iPad version and Flipboard (with Google reader, Media Guardian,, all my favourite tweeps and other favourites) first thing every morning.

I might get a few more news and media apps too, even paid ones, but no more print papers on weekdays.

It will be very interesting to see how Faedrelandsvennen's experiment plays out though. More on the experiment here (in Norwegian)

For the record, VG has been my main client for the last year and a half+, but I'd like to think this is irrelevant to this topic as the argument here is to do with pricing and bundling various platforms only


I thought you'd given up commenting on paywalls? :-P

In my spare minutes, I've been googling around trying to figure out whether paywalls (now) work. I kept running into 2010 reports of the Times shedding readers, followed by 2011-12 announcements of papers putting up paywalls. Finally, I hit this: which posits that the FT and the NYT are doing the exact opposite of Schibsted and pushing their readers _towards_ their digital versions. Hmmm. (Actually, there's a dissenter in the comments who thinks they're just milking the market. And the author has previously lambasted NYT's digital strategy.) Do circulation numbers get broken down demographically so we can tell how typical you are? (Incidentally, Tim Harford touches on something similar here: Being in the minority sucks.)

But more interesting than any one paywall is the effect on society. My googling suggested "protecting the quality of journalism" was the key justification for raising a paywall. So suppose that's true: what happens iff the best journalism can only be accessed for a fee? What kind of society does that breed? (I was reliant on Radio/TV news growing up. So maybe print journalism is just a luxury?) Hopefully the rush to paywalls will leave a few key players with revenue to fund decent on-line journalism, because I've grown to like it, and I wouldn't want to have to write a script that constantly resets my cookies so I can have infinite free articles.

Thanks for an interesting comment, as always.

Actually, when you posted it I was just finishing a big magazine feature on paywalls ;-) But I was juggling a bit too many things at the time, hence my frightfully late reply (sorry, it's been some very turbulent weeks although work has been very rewarding). Also, it must be said that I changed my understanding of what Faedrelandsvennen is doing since writing this post.

I was not aware of how much work's been done to actually be digital first, always, behind that paywall, the aim being to let those who pay chose which platform to read the news on - though the jury's still out on whether it'll work or not. Myself I'd probably be more likely to pay for an app, html5 or native though html5 is more convenient since I my gadgets run on various operating systems, than for a big bundle including print - but I'm not necessarily representative as I said.

I know some of the most used stats will at least break down stats for mobile and tablets demographically, so the answer is perhaps. I'm not sure if the stats are detailed enough, but it'll enable to say something like those who e.g use tablets and smartphones most tend to be men aged 30-39 in big cities with an above average income (with the caveat that I don't remember the exact stats just now, so don't quote me on that ;-) )

It must be said also that Faedrelandsvennen is just one model being tested within Schibsted - a big, pan-European company. In Sweden, the company's tabloid Aftonbladet has been successful with a very different model: you pay to get access to the "plus-section" which is basically a lifestyle section.

As for FT and NYT: yes, they tend to be quoted as two of the biggest paywall successes - Filloux makes interesting comparisons in the post you link to.

I'm not sure if we'll ever get to the point that the best journalism only can be accessed for a fee, but it depends on how you define the best journalism ;-) I doubt we'll ever see general, breaking news end up protected by a paywall (hard to find a workable business model for it + ethical issues in doing so).

But the most expensive form of journalism (investigative documentary and -features, high-class, well researched and well-written indepth stories - certainly. Though evicende (ie viewer/reader figures) suggest these forms of journalism have always been a niche sport. That's one of the key points for many who argue for the value and importance of public broadcasting, though it was put to me while writing the before mentioned feature that you could argue public broadcasting certainly isn't free since everyone who owns a tv has to pay a licensing fee.

You raise interesting questions, but I think we'll see a mix of paid, free and various hybrid models. Certainly, a big issue for newsssites going behind the paywall, is other, free news sites quoting their stories so that other news sites end up "owning" the story in the end...

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