Magazine article The Masthead

Paper Tries 'Reconditioning' Market: Experiment's Impact Is Marginal, but It's a Start

Magazine article The Masthead

Paper Tries 'Reconditioning' Market: Experiment's Impact Is Marginal, but It's a Start

Article excerpt

When we decided to pull we staff-written columns from, we did it with the notion that giving away expensive things isn't much of a business model, especially when loyal customers are asked to pay.

It was an experiment. Like every other newspaper, the Pilot is struggling to figure out how to make real money in a world where information wants to be free but the business will have a hard time surviving that way. (Like most scribblers, I once had the luxury of not caring about such things, but the past few years have turned us all into balance-sheet readers.)

As part of our deliberations, we're trying to decide what should be free and what shouldn't be, what should be available to everybody online and what should be available only to subscribers (either online or print).

Breaking news should be free, at least some of it. News that can be had elsewhere should be free. But some should carry a cost, because we spend a lot--in salaries, in benefits, in heat and lights--to find and produce it.

We decided to start the experiment with columns. Summer projects, too. So we stopped posting some of them to PilotOnline. Then we waited.

Five months later, I'd love to tell you that we have found the answer to the newspaper industry's woes, that our margins are right back where they were a decade ago because so many folks are willing to pay to read my 700 words a week.

But it didn't happen. Or, at least, we can't be sure it did.

Our circulation director says that too many variables--a price increase, the usual summer churn--make it impossible to know whether our decision affected circulation. (I've seen the numbers, and they're baffling.)

I'm told hits on our electronic opinion pages are actually up since we pulled the columns. It's probably best not to dwell too much on that fact. I'm going to tell myself that they would've been up even more had the columns been there--and that the additional page views were caused by people frantically clicking to find our work. …

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