Exciting News Indeed

Wow! I get to pay for something that used to be free! That’s extraordinary! I’m so excited!

Following the trend, as Jay Currie reported, of the National Post and many other newspapers, the Vancouver Sun and Province are offering an ‘electronic version’ of their paper. This means that what we used to get for free (albeit in a crappy site), we’ll have to pay for.

I understand that it costs money to run a Web site, but this is an absurd approach to recouping those costs. How many subscribers do they really think they’re going to get? I can’t imagine that they’re actually going to profit from this venture. Experts in online publishing can’t much money online–how well are hoary institutions like newspapers going to do?

As I was instructed to do, I called the Vancouver Sun today, to enquire about the pricing of the electronic edition. I’m never going to pay for it, but I wondered about the price. Get this: they didn’t know. They announced this service on page three of the paper and online today but couldn’t tell me how much it cost. In fact, the skilled saleswoman who answered my call suggested that I “call back next week.” Wow, CanWest Global Communications, way to sell that product.

If newspapers must generate money from their Web sites, I prefer the New York Times approach. It’s free for a week, but then you have to pay for the archived version. It’s not ideal, but at least it permits free access (and, therefore, an exchange of ideas) over a short period of time.

Here’s an even better solution: like it or not, newspapers are part of our national heritage. The National Archives should start a program to archive newspapers from major Canadian cities. There are plenty of content management solutions that could automagically extract the newspaper content and dump it into a well-organized database that was universally accessible. If the newspapers are concerned about losing subscribers to because people can access it for free online, then implement a 72-hour blackout period. That is, you can see Monday’s news at the archives on Thursday. There could even be some incentive cash for the newspapers to provide their data. Once setup, the costs would be relatively small but the long-term benefit would be extraordinary.


  1. “As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a ‘categorical pledge’ were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.” — 1984 by George Orwell

    Well, it’s 20 years late, but I’m glad to see that Newspeak is finally catching on.

  2. I recall reading a Sun article about it’s online version some weeks ago, and the price they mentioned was going to be significantly more than their print verion. There’s no way I’m going to switch. Aside from the price, I’d lose the convenience of pulling sections out and taking them with me on the bus, to the cabin, etc. Not to mention all of the raw material it provides for kids’ papier mache projects, camp fire-starter, origami party hats, wrapping up fish/fish & chips!

    BTW, if you have a library card you can search and read full text articles of Canada’s national and regional newspapers online already. I use “Canadian Newsstand” in the “Research” section of the North Van District Public Library website, and it’s also avalaible through the Vancouver Public Library.

  3. It’s just perfect that the Sun does not know how much the online edition will cost.

    Now I would never suggest anyone do anything illegal….but I wonder if the boffins at Canwest have set up an IP dependent password system…’cause if they haven’t I cannot imagine that there will not be a certain amount of community building sharing going on.

  4. A seven day archive. Be still my hands. And be careful, Jay; such suggestive comments might get you labelled a terrorist 😉

    I actually wouldn’t expect much unpaid-for content sharing to happen because there just isn’t that much to share. The Sun’s content has been watered down to the point where maybe 75% or more of what is in there can be found in other outlets, often verbatim as it comes off the wires. Or, even more likely, the content is just reprinted from another CanWest newspaper. What local news is there is alright, but there’s so little of it that isn’t a ‘slice of life’ or ‘human interest’ story or soapbox commentary.

    I’ve just about given up paying for the Sun as it is. I’m hardly likely to pay for the online archive of something I am hardly reading as it is. The value proposition just got lower.

  5. I talked about this a year ago when some of the Torstar papers adopted this approach, robbing us of a number of online columns, including those of Gwynne Dyer.

    The post is here:

    I strongly support the creation of a national Internet library, archiving the articles of the major national newspapers in an easy-to-access online format.

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