The honchos running Alabama’s largest news website are openly talking about the potential for implementing a pay wall.
The Nieman Lab, a blog produced by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, reported last week the leaders of Advance Publications are at least looking at implementing some type of pay wall as a means of raising revenue generation at their many statewide websites across the country. Advance, of course, is the parent company of al.com, Alabama’s largest news website.
“Advance Local is researching a number of options for digital subscription revenue, including recent tests with paid newsletters and high school sports,” Randy Segal, CEO of Advance Local, told Nieman Lab’s Ken Doctor. “Due to our success in building highly engaged local audiences, and in light of the evolution in consumer behavior toward paying for high-value digital offerings, we believe now is the right time to explore options to diversify our revenues with various paid digital content strategies.
“We expect this work to take several months of discovery as we leverage learnings from our own experiments and from industry peers. If we decide to test anything, it will be a dynamic meter in a single market but a final decision won’t be made until much later this year.”
Sifting through the jargon from that quote might take an advanced degree, but in essence it says they think people might be willing to pay for web content, but they’re going to move slowly to test that theory.
Doctor suggests in his article the move is a reaction to poorer than expected revenue generation over the past six years after the Newhouse family decided to take the deep plunge into digital, reeling back most of their daily newspapers to three days a week and embarking on a digital-first strategy.
“Over the years, it’s stuck to its strategy and that’s brought in little digital reader revenue, other than from e-editions,” he wrote. “As digital ad sales have gotten tougher, observers, including me, have suggested that Advance’s strategy and its forsaking of reader revenue was poorly timed.”
Doctor predicts Advance will test a “dynamic” meter — meaning you essentially only get a few articles for free — in one of its markets. No way of knowing where that will be. A facelift for al.com has also been rumored to be in the offing, but that doesn’t mean a pay wall test would hit Alabama first.
One other thing of note is that Advance is also pushing buyouts companywide, according to both al.com insiders and the Nieman Lab article. We’re told the company is attempting to offer six-month severance packages to employees with 20-plus years of service. No one is certain what will happen if those employees choose not to retire, but recent layoffs at the Portland Oregonian certainly can’t calm nerves.
Sinclair sends a message
Some news anchors with Sinclair Media, which owns and operates two stations in the Mobile-Pensacola market, are privately expressing unhappiness with having to read a script slamming national media outlets for “fake stories.”
The script starts out praising local news stations for “quality, balanced journalism,” but then switches to discussing the “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country,” according to a CNN news report. CNN has on numerous occasions been accused by President Donald Trump of pushing “fake news,” so Sinclair’s message may hit close to home. However, news anchors have been reported as saying they feel awkward being forced to read the message.
Sinclair is the country’s largest owner of local television stations, and that includes WPMI and WEAR in this market.