"While details are being finished," the Wall Street Journal first disclosed, a paywall that "allows casual readers . . . a certain number of stories free before charging a subscription fee is likely to be rolled out in 2013 along with increases to the print newspaper's newsstand price."
In the long era of robust profits and peak readership, as recently as 2001, the daily paper still cost $0.25. Now, it is $1.00 ($2.00 on Sunday). The Washington Post
(for which I have abiding goodwill and respect) has endured devastating cutbacks in every aspect of its business -- newsroom resources, circulation, and income -- while investing in an Internet presence that is extensive, ambitious, and free. If a paywall is introduced, it will certainly not provide enough money to reverse operating losses in the
company's newspaper division that reached $56.3 million for the first nine months of this year. Martin Baron, the longtime editor of the Boston Globe, arrives in January as executive editor, replacing Marcus Brauchli, who served for four very difficult years and succeeded in integrating the once freestanding website staff with the newsroom. For all their admirable continuing commitment to quality news gathering, the Washington Post's family-controlled ownership has been unable to protect the newspaper from a precipitous slide.
Every newspaper in the country (and many counterparts in Western Europe) confronts the fact that print readership is heading inexorably downward. But there is still a yen among some senior moguls for acquiring newspapers with the intent of figuring out how to make the most of their digital potential and stature. The Tribune Company, emerging from bankruptcy after four years, is screening bankers to sell its papers, according to a Bloomberg story. By all accounts, Rupert Murdoch, among others, is a potential buyer. And Michael Bloomberg himself is said to be interested in the Financial Times. Warren Buffett's enthusiastic purchase, so far, of eighty newspapers is a measure of his view that local news, especially, is a viable asset.
The odds of a meaningful turnaround for newspapers remain very long. But a new Pew Research study did show a little headway, with 19 percent of mobile news users now paying for some form of digital subscription. Since all of us already pay monthly bills for our Internet access and mobile devices, it is just possible that over time we can be persuaded to pay for the digitally delivered content, as we have done for cable television and other services such as Netflix. And as print options for advertising are reduced, reaching those dedicated readers may lead to better rates. It has been barely a decade since the impact of the Web dragged down newspaper revenues and the ingenuity of engineering minds became integral to their survival.