Everyone knows that the media (the Chronicle included) is going through some major changes. We’ve got newspapers folding (and not in the usual way) left and right. We’ve got ads that don’t quite translate into online revenue, and online journalism sites that can’t seem to charge money, or at least seem to largely exist in the non-profit model. NPR’s On The Media has been covering this nonstop. There have even been Congressional hearings about it.
But ok. The media is dying. There’s even a Twitter account with that exact name.
So what’s a newspaper do to? Micropayments? The public radio model? There’s plenty to choose from.
But what about the anti-Google approach: pulling content offline?
That’s exactly what Estonia’s biggest newspaper, Postimees, is doing. This EPIC 2014-esque model is particularly curious given that Estonia is such a wired country. Yes, you might know it better as e-Stonia. (You know, they invented Skype, perfected Internet voting and got cyberattacked back in 2007.)
Starting this Monday, Postimees will stop full publication of its articles online. Its rival, Eesti Päevaleht, is going to follow suit within the next few months.
Then, the plan seemingly is to put those articles behind a paywall.
But here’s where this plan might actually work where other online paywalls have failed: it’s happening simultaneously in a small, semi-exclusive, market. (Heck, if I was Estonian, maybe I might throw down my kroons for some of these articles.)
If something like this happened here, I might not like it, but honestly, if that were the easiest way to get my daily fix of journalism every day I just might do it. I’m a 27-year-old journalist who loves newspapers. Heck, I was a paperboy as a child for (defunct since 1998) The Evening Outlook in Santa Monica for a couple of years.
But the fact of the matter is that I’m going to get my news for free on way or the other, so long as its easier than paying for it. The Wall Street Journal charges for access — I wasn’t reading it anyway. Oh wait, but there’s a free (and legal) workaround. TimesSelect? There was a way around that, too. But iTunes proved that if you can make it easier to buy music than to pirate it, then that’s what people will do.
But ok, what if all my favorite papers like the Chronicle, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times started, all at once, charging for their content. Maybe then I’d consider forking over some cash.
Now, Estonia is a small country with a small readership. The entire Estonian-speaking population worldwide is roughly one quarter the size of the Bay Area. We’ll find out soon enough if a product with a limited audience can succeed with this strategy.