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Summary:

We could have told Johnston Press, when it announced the plans back in November, that people won’t pay to read local newspapers online. But…

We could have told Johnston Press, when it announced the plans back in November, that people won’t pay to read local newspapers online. But you can’t begrudge the publisher finding out for sure for itself…

Its three-month pay trial on six local papers sites is now ending, with apparently dismal results. One paper staffer tells HTFP the trial was a “disaster” with subscribers “in single figures”, while another title got subscribers only “in the low double figures“, Press Gazette says.

While some of the sites had pay or registration barriers, others’ articles told readers to go buy the paper after paragraph two.

JP began testing the £5-a-quarter model in December on the Worksop Guardian; the Ripley & Heanor News; the Whitby Gazette; the Northumberland Gazette; Carrick Gazette and the Southern Reporter in Scotland “for us to understand directly the dynamics around consumer paid-for content“.

But the conclusion is clear – charging for local news online is something of a no-go. We don’t know how successful the registration or other elements of the trial were; Johnston is keeping results in-house.

Quoted on JP-owned Scotsman.com in November, CEO John Fry got swept up in Rupert Murdoch’s new bullishness:

  1. People dont want to read, let alone pay for, this dull, highly centralised, local information. These papers have existed because of local advertising and the complete lack of alternatives. This is no longer the case.

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  2. I think all this really tells us is that a badly executed paywall won’t sell anything. They made no effort to explain the benefits of subscribing or how great their content was – and no one subscribed. What a surprise.

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  3. The above comment attacking the content is unfair – people will pay for a local news organ – they are just not used to the digital format yet. Local newspapers must evolve into local in services – JP made the basic error of just offering a digital version of the old printed paper without proper research, marketing and added value 3rd party deals- this is doomed to failure no matter what pay wall was executed. Selling information on line is not about technology – it is about understanding the consumer’s needs, their potential to spend wallet share with you rather than hunt around on the internet for info and adding value to your unique content. Hopefully JP have now learnt this lesson – albeit the hard way.

    Malcolm Coles is right. JP may want to consider investing more time and effort in marketing their content and creating new business models rather than letting the geeks in the IT department run (or ruin) the business. Talk about letting the tail wag the dog – oh dear!

    Patrick King
    Atypon Systems Inc.

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  4. “People will pay for a local news organ” – Have you spoken with anyone under 35 recently who actually buys a local newspaper? They’re leaving the printed medium in droves, and it’s not the stuff they want online (conversely, neither do the older, remaining local paper readers want to read it digitally).

    I think it’s really time to fundamentally rethink what local content should mean – both online and in print – but certainly what kind of local content citizens are really wanting.

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  5. Robert beat me to it but Patrick comment is the most oxymoron statement I’ve ever heard on this subject matter, period:

    “people will pay for a local news organ – they are just not used to the digital format yet….”

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  6. Under 35? Having just hit 40, I’ve never bought one either.

    I genuinely would pay for hyperlocal content if a site was clever enough to push me stuff I was interested in (EG current things for kids to do, things for me to do, my house price, discounts at local businesses) and had genuine local insight (schools etc).

    None of the hyperlocal sites seem to offer this, sadly, as the business model seems to be to get someone to run the site part time or for free, get local volunteers to put up stuff they notice, and hope ads make enough money for the parent company …

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  7. Humans have been around for millions of years and it still takes nine months to conceive one successfully. 3 months for the ‘new’ digital offering? Now that is “premature”

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  8. John Stonepress Sunday, April 4, 2010

    As a JP employee, it is bamboozling to say the least that to save my job I have had to change location and, in two year’s time, take a £5k pay cut.

    JP has shed some 2,000 staff nationwide in the past two years.

    Is this to save the cash for the JP suits to pour funding into other such pointless ideas as pay sites for local news?

    JP owes in excess of £400m to banks, so who is the fool paid megabucks to come up with these ideas?
    I’d do it for £50k a year…………

    Any idiot knows, since the dawn of the ‘interweb’, the only sites to make shedloads of cash are the likes of Amazon and, of course, porno portals!

    Blimey, this profession is disappearing down the drain faster than Mr Muscle Plughole Unblocker!

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