I said maybe / You're gonna be the one that saves me / And after all / You're my … paywall.
Yes, your beloved Los Angeles Times is jumping into the paywall game — charging readers for online access to its content beginning March 5.
You'll be able to read 15 stories on a device, but, after that, it's pay-time:
Readers will be offered an “introductory” rate for online membership of .99 cents a week. But the final price will be $3.99 a week. Print subscribers will get online content free.
Predictable? Unimaginative? You betcha. This smells of something cooked up by non-journalist suits who embody the term don't get it. Paywall. Wow. Never heard of that one before. They should package it with a weekly lifestyle section targeting the youth demographic, because everyone knows kids like to get their news via paper.
(Wait, the Times also says it's launching yet another weekly lifestyle section. Really.)
The Times has blockbuster page views that will surely diminish as it pulls you over on the information super highway to ask for your credit card number.
Demanding that folks pay for well-produced content isn't morally wrong, even though the price of delivering said content — the old-school basis for subscriptions — is practically nothing.
It's just bad business sense in this environment: It seems to work only for very specialized publications with have-to-have-it audiences (the Wall Street Journal is example No. 1).
Where it hasn't worked is at mass-market, general-readership publications. People like to call the New York Times' paywall a success, but it isn't. It's an annoyance. It's not a failure — but it hasn't begun to soak up the red ink caused by declining print readership. Not even close. Has it turned the company around? Has it caused the New York Times to turn down the investment cash (and loans) of a Mexican billionaire? Not really. Not sure how you call that a success.
We'd expect the same here in L.A. In order to be a successful part of the web's fast-and-furious flow of information, you have to keep it free and easy, like Lindsay Lohan.
In any case, what you don't want is a reason for people to leave your site and read, say, L.A. Weekly, which delivers daily news to your digital device at the low, low rate of free.
To which you might respond, sure, but the Times kicks your ass on a daily basis.
True. Very true. But how will you know? You're going to fork over that $3.99 to find out?
Tell you what: We won't even know. They'll have to tell us via Twitter.
For more on changes to the lifestyle sections at the Times — and the elimination of its standalone Food section — check out our sister blog, Squid Ink.