Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Monday, April 30, 2012

Will paywall scheme save the Courier?

Ten year circulation figures for the Courier,
based on a spreadsheet prepared by blogger Jim Hopkins.

Plainfielders will be interested in whether the Courier's new paywall subscription scheme due to be introduced tomorrow will save the ever-shrinking newspaper or simply delay its demise.

What exactly the parameters of the paywall scheme are will only be known as of tomorrow, but the model many newspapers -- most notably the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal -- have adopted is a set number of free articles viewed per month, with a subscription (online only, or online plus print) required for further reading.

Poking around the website, I'm beginning to wonder if the paywall proposal (about which there is no detailed information I can spot) is ready for prime time.

Add to this the fact that the article touting the new scheme, which has been featured on the MyCentralJersey website since April 15, suddenly disappeared as of Sunday night; and links to self-published stories -- such as Act IV's current production of J.B. Priestley's mystery 'An Inspector Calls' -- suddenly return the notorious '404 - Page Not Found' error message.

Secondly, when I started down the 'subscription' pathway online, the only option given was Home Delivery. There was no Digital-only subscription offered. (Though I must say, at $13.26/month, or approximately 44¢/copy, it is quite a savings over the daily newsstand price of $1.00/copy -- exclusive of Sundays.)

While the story says the Gannett papers are also tailoring the online offerings for other platforms, such as smartphones and iPads, one wonders if there will be sufficient dazzle and sizzle to overcome the cancellations that come as a matter of course when both the hard copy prices and the online experience (hitherto 'free') go up.

The Courier News is in the unenviable position of having the largest percentage decline of all Gannett's daily newspapers nationwide in the period 2000 - 2010, per a spreadsheet prepared by Jim Hopkins of the Gannett Blog (see here). It lost a total of 22,917 subscribers or 55% of its 2000 circulation figure.

It is no small irony that Gannett's justification for moving the Courier from Plainfield to Bridgewater in the 1970s -- that subscriber numbers would soar in the boom projected for Somerset and Hunterdon counties -- has turned out to be hollow. In hindsight, the final Plainfield-based circulation number was a high-water mark for the newspaper.

Will the coming changes rescue the Courier?

Only time will tell, but I'm less than sanguine.

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Michael Townley said...

We received a communication from Paul Grzella outlining the changes. My understanding was that the on-line content would only be available to subscribers of the print edition, but I could be wrong. The figure mentioned was $20 a month for the package, which included the print edition, the on-line digital of the print edition, and the on-line content at

Anonymous said...

I've got the solution. It's in keeping with the Courier forcing web commentors to join Facebook in order to make a post. Why doesn't Gannett cut a deal and make Facebook its 'official social network'. That could bring in some much needed cash.

Dan said...

Thanks for the info, Michael.

But when I go to the website (as I did again just now), the only subscribe option is home delivery for $13.26/month, which reinforces my question about whether this scheme is ready for prime time.

Wouldn't you think the info that was shared with you in advance would also be posted to the website...somewhere obvious?

(I remember going thru a similar 'shakedown cruise' several years ago with the NYTimes, which eventually withdrew the scheme because it was so poorly executed.)

Anonymous said...

I stopped reading the Courier on-line when they forced everyone to comment using Facebook. I also noticed that you have to hit the "back" button twice to get out of an article, I guess that's so they get double the number of "hits" on a page...

Anonymous said...

It's a broken model. It's going to go away and the only question is when. I don't think that's a good thing for our country, but it is inevitable.
What will replace it? Blogs I guess/hope. AOL is investing a lot in its Patch model to figure out if that can sustain journalism. There are several competing models here in Union County.
Either way this is a time of change and I hope opportunity for the craft.