It looks like Johnston Press has taken the leap to trial a subscription paywall model for the websites of a few of its local newspapers, one of them being The Whitby Gazette. The other papers to have their websites locked down will be The Worksop Guardian, The Northumberland Gazette and the Ripley & Heanor News.
The local paper in Ripon is also owned by Johnston Press and runs off the same clunky and slow website platform. With a population of around 15,000 I would expect the readership of the Ripon Gazette to be under 10,000 if you perhaps include lots of outlying villages, but surely if you are going to have people subscribing to a service you at least need to make the website attractive and usable, and for the journalism to be good?
In terms of the readership of the papers that they are trialing with a subscription, I just can’t see what would make people subscribe online for £5 every 3 months to read the local news online rather than going out and buying the paper. I wonder if they have actually looked at the demographics of the people who currently read the paper and whether they are regular computer users?
Personally even though I am on the internet all day long I will still buy the Ripon Gazette each week to see what is going on, to skim over the announcements, take in a some letters to the editor, look at properties for sale and check out the local sports news … but I like to do that over the weekend when I have 5 or 10 minutes, without the need to log on. I will then recycle the newspaper and use it in the guinea pig’s cage. My grandmother who lives at Robin Hoods Bay, a few miles from Whitby, gets the Whitby Gazette and at 87 she won’t be venturing near a computer.
Further down the line if Johnston Press decided to stop the printing of the traditional newspaper and go all online with a paywall subscription, I think that they may find that people would opt for a more regional or national paper … in our case it would be the Yorkshire Post. I can understand national newspapers perhaps doing a subscription service, but then again there are always the alternatives that will still be free and just as good.