It's been in the works for a while, but new Courier-Journal publisher Wesley Jackson offcially announced this morning that the paper will be adopting a new subscription model come the first of June.
The most noteworthy change is that the bulk of the online edition at Courier-Journal.com will no longer be free.
Subscription options will range from full access, including seven-day delivery of the print edition, to digital only. You'll also have access to even more breaking news stories and updates. More videos. More photos. And more interactivity.
Nonsubscribers will have access to a limited number of free articles on courier-journal.com each month before they are required to subscribe, although some key landing pages such as the home page, section fronts, obituaries, Cars.com and Careerbuilder.com, among others, will remain accessible to nonsubscribers.
This was the right move for the C-J - or, more accurately, Gannett - to make five years ago, but it's the wrong move now.
Institutions like The New York Times can thrive, or at least survive, off a model like this in large part because of their national appeal. Obviously, the situation for Louisville's paper of record is entirely different. With its access and staff, the C-J can do things that no other news outlet in this area can do, but I don't think the gap in content and quality between it and the other free outlets in these parts is anywhere near large enough to bring Kentuckiana to its collective knees.
Jackson's piece notes that 555,000 people access the C-J online every week. Given its number of employees, content produced and traffic-friendly lay-out, it actually surprises me that this number isn't significantly larger. It's also a statistic that I can't see holding steady with this news, and I have doubts that the added revenue from the new subscriptions will be enough to make up the difference.
When I first started blogging, the C-J sports page was the first bookmark I clicked on every morning. Now, I'll check out a link to a Crawford, Demling, Brown or Bozich piece if I see it on Twitter or Facebook and it looks particularly appealing, but the days of refreshing Courier-Journal.com with hopes of catching a first glimpse at the latest big news have been gone for a while now.
What the C-J staff will find out, i fear, is the same thing the Rivals and Scout people have been discovering for the past year or so: the news or the quote you have that nobody else does is going to end up on Twitter about 60 seconds after your story is posted, and then everybody is going to have it. There's no way to regulate that, and few people are willing to pay for a 60-second head start on the rest of the city.
I understand the motivation and the thought process behind Gannett's move. Four years ago, I stopped getting the print edition of the paper. At that time, I absolutely would have paid for an online subscription, as being able to get every story online for free was a pretty strong driving force to a logical conclusion (significantly low funds was in the passenger seat). Now (with low funds still sitting shotgun), the product the C-J and only the C-J can supply me with isn't nearly enough to make me dive into my pockets. Eric Crawford is the best sportswriter in this area, and I'll hate missing out on his columns and blog entries if they're restricted, but aside from that the only online things I'll really miss seeing (at least instantaneously) are the press conference and other live video streams...and those were choppy or broken about half of the time anyway.
I have issues with the local paper just like anyone living just about anywhere does, but I don't want to see it crippled, and I really don't want to see it die. My father and grandfather both dedicated a significant chunk of their lives to the Courier, and I suppose that makes my affection (for lack of a better word) for the paper stronger than it would be otherwise. All I'm saying here is that I think this is a mistake. I genuinely hope I'm wrong.