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.