Saturday, September 22, 2012

Watch out, more newspaper ranting ahead!

So, about the Ottawa Citizen.

I know, I've ranted about it before. I've talked about how I got the paper delivered, but didn't read it. Eventually, I cancelled it and moved to reading it online.

The online version isn't as good as the paper version - mostly because there's not as much content. They might have everything online, but they don't link to it all, as far as I can tell.

The Citizen is going through financial issues. They've stopped the Sunday paper (which has always been a very small paper) and combined it with Saturday into a weekend edition. A lot of their columnists mysteriously decided to retire around the same time.

And they've decided to start charging if you want to read more than 10 articles a month online.

The thing is, a lot of newspapers started charging for online reading about ten years ago. Most (if not all) of those papers are now back to being free. It fundamentally isn't a business model that works. 

There are lots of reasons for that:
  • There are thousands of free news sources (including OCHeadlines, which is the Ottawa Citizen's twitter feed - you can't necessarily read the article if you're past your 10, but you get enough info to google it). There's also the TV news. The Sun network ( is still free.  CBC's website has news. And, of course, that's just for Ottawa-specific news. If you want world news, there are tons of options.
  • They're charging for information they purchased from someone else. For example, the business section largely comes from the Financial Post - which is free. That means you have other options for reading that news.
  • There are easy ways around their limit, like changing browsers or computers (or, I assume, clearing your cookies).  Frankly, I can't be bothered to use these methods - I'll just go elsewhere - but it can be done.
I read once (note the vague, uncited source) that newspapers exist is to sell advertising, which is why it's cheaper to buy them than it costs to print and deliver them. That's not just traditional advertising, but also things like classifieds and obituaries.

(When was the last time you read the classifieds?)

Obviously, the business model has changed.  Classifieds have been largely replaced with online equivalents, and ads on the site clearly aren't doing the job.

The thing is, paid access is unlikely to solve the problem.

In fact, it will likely reduce the ad revenue, because people like me will just stop going to the page to start with.

Perhaps when they go back to being free, I'll check out the site again.


  1. I agree completely - with so much free content on the internet, charging for content is never going to be a working model. Do you think this is the end of newspapers as we know them? I have heard that the Ottawa Citizen, in particular, is close to folding. It's a little alarming to me to imagine a city like Ottawa with no newspaper - but I guess that's the way we're heading.

  2. Our local paper, Fresno BEE, is online and looks just like the paper version but no coupons. We pay $5 a month for the privilege of reading it online. I like that, and don't mind paying for it, because I can read the paper anywhere we go and Terry and I can read the paper at the same time. The ONLY reason I want the local paper is to read the obituaries. oh, and some local news that no other paper is going to print. I enjoy the SF Chronicle and buy the Sunday paper version for $3 each week. It is currently sitting on my dining room table, awaiting my perusal.