Day Five Behind The SFChronicle Paywall: This Experiment Is A Bust

Our last day together! I think we can safely declare this experiment a bust. Here’s a summary of my week.

Number of articles read on 6.
Number of articles read on 20+. (I do a lot of headline-skimming on SFGate, though.)
Number of articles I originally clicked on in that required me to move over to to finish the article: 2.

Pretty much everything I wanted to read this week I could (and did) read on I guess that is a kinder way of saying that at this point, I am not sufficiently motivated by the Chron’s longer articles to take the extra time to click through to another website, log in with my account, and continue reading.

Not that the articles aren’t good! It’s just that I no longer am in the habit of thinking of the longer Chronicle articles as something worth my time anymore.

Part of that is laziness, yes, and the internet culture of reading news for free — but part of it is also because the Chron made a decision at some point to stop investing in the writing and editing of thoughtful long pieces in the first place.

As a result of that decision, the core readership of people who would have previously read those longer pieces has learned not to expect that type of work from the Chronicle anymore, and is thus no longer willing to pay for it.

You can’t blame the readership for our refusal to pay for articles without equally objectively assessing the current state of the product you’re selling. You can’t abandon for years the one form of the medium that people are willing to pay for, significantly water down the product, and then suddenly start charging for the watered-down news as though it were the same high-quality articles you had before.

Either you have to give the readership something more than what we’re getting for free on SFGate, or you have to figure out a way to make money off free articles.

Also, it’s not fair to put the responsibility of raising all the paywall money on the three to five names in the newsroom that people know — and by hiding the well-known writers behind a wall, the Chron runs the risk that readers will just stop reading them entirely rather than pay for access.

Not without regret — but does it really matter how badly I feel about not reading Chip Johnson if I’m still not reading him? (or, more relevantly, paying to read him?) Why not use this as an opportunity to rebuild the journalism instead?

Okay, everyone! That’s it for the week! This was fun, except for the parts where I had to read the Kidding, kidding.

Maybe this is just their rocky beta launch and things will steadily get better. It definitely got better as the week went on. I’m probably going to keep the subscription, at least for a month or two. Also, I really am very psyched to get a Sunday paper again. Real estate listings! The comics! Parade Magazine! That’s probably worth $12/month just by itself, right?

Previously: My First Day With The New Online Chron
Day Two Behind The SFChronicle.Com Paywall
Day Three Behind The SFChronicle Paywall: “Nothing For Something”
Day Four Behind The SFChronicle Paywall: “Why Not Monetize Your Trolls?”

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