Just weeks after we finally linked to and started reading the incomparable Capitol Ideas blog daily, this happens:
If you're even a casual student of the media, then you know that we've been going through something of an upheaval these last few years. It's also no secret that newspapers have been looking for ways to make money off the Web.
So, starting Oct. 10, The Morning Call will start offering digital subscriptions to its readers. Purchasing a digital subscription will allow you to view an unlimited amount of our website’s articles, blogs, photos and videos.
If you choose not to subscribe, you'll have free access to 10 pages each month. And if you blow through that limit, you'll be asked to become a digital subscriber. (Capitol Ideas, John L. Micek)
Micek goes on to write that the subscription will cost 35 cents a day, and links to the parent newspaper's announcement, which repeats the line about 35 cents a day.
On such notes these new relationships always begin. Or fail to.
Assuming the "35 cent" rate is available monthly -- and you know what they say about assumptions -- a subscription would cost $10.50 per month. Which is how one would pay.
So don't condenscend us, man, just say it costs ten bucks a month. You're a newspaper. Have you ever reported that a proposed tax cut or increase will save or cost people just pennies a day? Or do we all pay our taxes on April 15th at 10:30 PM, and that's how we are accustomed to weighing impacts on us? Even PWSA didn't try to tell us that their opt-out water line insurance program would cost 17 cents a day, and they're horrendous in every way.
If our phone bill went up $10 next month, we'd have to consider switching carriers or downgrading service. That's just life -- no way around that. And we'd more seriously consider such change if our carrier came at us all Tricky McMarkety about the rate hike.
But this is all transference, of course.
The real difficulty is this: although a subscription to the Morning Call might actually be worth it -- and mostly because of Capitol Ideas, literally the only place to reliably learn about campaigns in Harrisburg to save HEMAP or to keep abortion services practically available -- we don't actually look forward to reading the Morning Call, we look forward to reading "the news".
Which means ALL THE THINGS.
If we pay $10 to the Morning Call, that means we know we will ultimately have to pay $10 to the Post-Gazette, $10 to the Tribune-Review, $10 to the Philadelphia Inquirer, $10 to the New York Times and $10 to the Atlantic Monthly so we can continue reading Andrew Sullivan. Taken together, that comes to many hundreds of cents per day!
Which is unsustainable. Which is why this model isn't the future.
At best, the Morning Call will time their situation in the market well -- that is, acquire a set cache of subscribers, enjoy a boost, and get to keep some talent in the newsroom contented for a season or two. But shortly new Internet readers will fail to catch on and develop their own addictions, as we did a couple weeks ago. Meanwhile, subscribers garnered during the roll-out will slowly drop out as they encounter months and moods where money seems a little tight and maybe their debit and credit cards turn sour for a spell, or read MC editorials which enrage them and cause snits, or simply no longer enjoy being able to discuss MC content with as many friends and colleagues.
We still believe the answer lies in more innovative advertising and marketing. We know everything has not been tried, or um -- resorted to.
Perhaps if individual features of the paper or individual authors were sponsored exclusively, each according to their own style and swagger. One could even ask reporters for help in securing their own sponsors.
Perhaps if reporters and editors were made to cleverly include product placement within news articles. Don't make that face. It can be done with a wink and a smirk; today's readers will recognize it and understand. It's been happening on the radio for decades. These are not "modest proposals", these are real.
Finally and most crucially, perhaps if more opinion, analysis, cross-source synthesis and sensationalism (you know: all that awful, valueless derivative blog stuff) were made to be included seamlessly and in one piece with existent excellent reporting as a part of regular daily news content, that might make newspapers more engaging, useful and entertaining to many, many more consumers -- thereby improving advertising and marketing prospects all around.
That last idea might have a side-benefit of encouraging a wider, better-informed populace on average, including much better-informed young people. What's more desirable: a better-informed populace and increased sales, or fewer 60-year old high priests of Journalistism throwing up in their mouths a little? We know what we'd choose.