NWAnews.com to begin charging for content

In an effort to try and protect its Northwest Arkansas print business, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette announced today that the content available on NWAnews.com will no longer be free as of Wednesday, Aug. 5.

The news comes just days after the announcement that the New York Times will try once again to successfully charge readers for its online content – something it abandoned two years ago.

NWAnews.com is the website of the Northwest Arkansas Times, the Benton County Daily Record, the northwest edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as well as a handful of weekly papers. When the change occurs next month, current print subscribers of those publications will not be charged for accessing the online content, but a fee of $5.95 per month will be required for nonsubscribers.

No more free access to NWAnews.com.

Printed advertisements have long since been the backbone of the newspaper industry’s business model. And since there’s no literal translation of a full-page ad on a website, many publishers are left to wonder how they’ll make the inevitable transition to online-only content.

To some, offering free news on the web means losing print subscribers and in turn, means the death of the entire organization. “If we continue a policy of offering our newspaper content free on the Internet, the day will come when it just won’t be there,” reads a quote from ADG publisher Walter Hussman in today’s Northwest Arkansas Times.

Citing his belief that the internet is not an effective place to advertise, Hussman further states his case for erecting a paywall by asking, “When was the last time you responded to a banner ad or a pop-up ad online and bought something?”

Clearly, innovation in online advertising isn’t something Hussman is willing to experiment with. But who can blame him? Newspapers have survived (and thrived) on the current model of placing a picture of an advertisement on a piece of paper for over a hundred years. However, the act of purchasing and reading news on a piece of paper will eventually be a thing of the past.

In the meantime – and in an effort to appease both its print and web audiences – the online team has been tasked with adding complementary features to NWAnews.com and it recently hired former Fayetteville Flyer contributor Jon Schleuss to fill its newly-created position of online editor. “Our goal at the end of the day is for visitors to have a very different experience on the Web site than what they do when they read the newspaper,” said online director Mat Costa.

A tweet from Northwest Arkansas Times online director Mat Costa in reference to former Flyer contributor Jon Schleuss

For those willing to pay up, it might be worth it to see some shiny new features on NWAnews.com, but “blogs, polls, breaking news alerts, original videos and more” don’t answer the question of how the newspaper is going to make money when the printing presses are eventually shut off. At only six bucks a month for a subscription, the state’s largest newspaper won’t be able to make it without ad revenue.

Which begs the question: Did you really just tell your current and potential advertisers that there’s no value in placing ads on your website?