Publishers all over the country are currently trying to figure out how to make money from online content or, at the very least, how to make more money off their still-profitable print products.
Recently, The Cincinnati Enquirer (my employer) has been experimenting with ideas to boost the value of the printed newspaper. As an online employee my entire career, it’s been a bit out of my wheelhouse to focus on print, especially since the Enquirer’s previous claims to fame have been more in the digital side. Whether we like it or not, print still pays the bills, so our paper – and many papers – are willing to experiment if it means keeping the lights on.
The experiment started Feb. 7 when the Enquirer editors opted to hold the publication of our big Sunday showcase story until 5 p.m. on Sunday in order to to boost single-copy sales of the Sunday print edition. Prior to this, we had been posting the weekend blowouts online on Friday mornings or afternoons to give a “sneak peek” of sorts to our online readers.
The next week, Feb. 14, the experiment widened as the editors opted against publishing the Sunday centerpiece online at all. The print-only designation grew further this past weekend, Feb. 20, as one Sunday feature in every section of the newspaper was designated to be “print only”, with an icon denoting it as such in the paper.
On the Fridays before these experiments, we put a promo on the front of our site telling our online readers what they’d be missing online over the weekend and urging them to buy a newspaper. I don’t know what kind of reaction bubbled up to those on the print side, but I know I fielded a few reactions from readers looking for those stories online after the fact.
It could take awhile to determine the experiment’s success – or even figure out what success really means. My editor, Tom Callinan, said he expects the experimentation to become more focused and strategic over time. It could possibly accelerate toward a pay wall or premium model of some sort in the future. I guess we’ll see what develops.
I realize this kind of print-only content plan is hardly unheard-of, as many papers (see this in the Minneapolis Star Tribune) have been holding some or all publication from the web – and it’s pretty much the norm in the magazine publishing world.
I’m putting this out there because I’d like some feedback.
If you’re a Cincinnati-area reader: Did you notice this? What did you think? If you saw a story promoted only that was print-only that interested you, would it prompt you to seek out a Sunday paper?
If you’re an industry wonk (or wannabe wonk like me): What’s your reaction to this kind of experimentation? Do you know of other news sites that usually have everything online withholding their best stories from the web? More importantly, is this working to boost print sales?
If you don’t want to leave a comment, shoot me an email.
Editor’s Note: I opted against editorializing on this experiment because (as you might imagine) I like getting a paycheck. While I have a lot of thoughts on this, I’ll save them for internal discussions where they might actually be useful. You can probably figure out where I stand if you’ve ever read this blog before.