Student Paper Paywall Experiment: Initial Online Reactions

Over the past week, web chatter has intensified surrounding the decision by The Daily O’Collegian at Oklahoma State University to begin charging select readers a minimal fee to access its online content. As I mentioned in my related post, the paper is the first known college news media outlet to attempt an online pay scheme of any sort.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Wired Campus blog, O’Collegian general manager Raymond Catalino clarified that, for now, the purpose of the scheme is actually not mainly about making money.

In his words: “It’s a beginning step in establishing the fact that what we produce has value outside of our immediate market, and people ought to be willing to pay for that. . . I’d be happy to get 100 people the first year. . . . I’m not really doing this for the revenue at this point. I’m basically trying to see if it will work.”

Bryan Murley, director of the Center for Innovation in College Media, expressed appreciation for the boldness of the attempt.  But according to Wired Campus, he is skeptical “it can succeed on a large scale. He questions whether there are enough off-campus readers who would be willing to pay for news generated on campus. And he doubts any college newspapers will consider total paywalls any time soon.”

Murley: “This is the time in journalism where we’re sort of going to the coins-in-the-couch model of making money– wherever we can get a little bit here and there to keep things going. . . . And I think that’s really what this is about.”

A majority of other reactions I came across online were less kind.  A sampling:

Ummm, is this part of some academic experiment to see how fast you can kill a paper’s circulation? I certainly hope so…”

Wow, I write for the O’Colly and in no way think my content is amazing enough that people would pay to read it. I wasn’t even aware we had a website for the first few months I wrote for it. Our overhead is covered by student fees so this is entirely unnecessary to begin with.”

While college sites get hits (through search engines) from all over the world, loyal readership is typically small, but growing at college papers. The group likely consists mainly of diehard football fans that need every perspective on the team and a small group of parents/alumni that know the student paper has a web site. If the students can make a couple hundred dollars a year off these people: more power to them. If they can’t, then they’ll drop the paywall without much harm.”

The prevailing opinion thus far is that few people without any [affiliation] with OSU would have any interest in much of the student paper’s content. Instead of making any money off this, they’re simply shooting themselves in the foot and will kill off any non-affiliated readers that they may have had. That’s probably why they’re the first college paper to try to charge for their content- there’s simply no demand for it and most other papers are savvy enough to realize that.

I would categorize a college paper and what they produce as niche . . . content. The people coming to view pages here have many other choices. They aren’t coming for general news. I bet their take rate will be pretty good considering these points. For them it will be all about price. Don’t get greedy.”

Unfortunately, Cowboy nation may have overestimated its importance, equating the newspaper’s popularity with the football team’s gridiron prowess. . . . Sure, some journo student’s parent will likely subscribe, electronically acknowledging that their offspring is getting a byline and to encourage them in their craft. But, we’re talking about family members and not everyone else who will flock to free Google News to find Cowboy Nation material or to countless other relevant sites offering no charge access.”

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