Free is a lousy business model.
I’m not sure when I heard that axiom the first time, but it undoubtedly was during a conversation about the challenges facing the news industry. At the risk of oversimplifying, here’s the dilemma: For generations, if you had goods or services to sell, or a job to fill, you bought an ad in the newspaper. Print was king. Then along came the internet.
Digital advertising and e-commerce turned the newspaper business model upside down, along with the balance sheets of a lot of other industries. Yes, we’re still in the advertising game. But so is Google, Facebook and a host of other digital competitors. The playing field is crowded, and advertising is hyper-targeted, meaning businesses are spending a lot less to reach the customers they want.
The disruption to the advertising side of our business means that now more than ever, we need subscriber support to produce local journalism that’s vital to our community.
Which brings us back to idea that free is not a sustainable business model.
Why some Cincinnati.com content will be available to subscribers only
As news organizations entered the digital era, the internet was obsessed with free. Remember the now defunct file-sharing website Napster, where you could fill your music library with free MP3s? Eventually, copyright enforcement and payment technology caught up with the times, and now we willingly pay online for music, movies and other media. But news organizations have been slower to adapt.
Currently, visitors to Cincinnati.com can enjoy seven articles a month for free. To read more, you are asked to subscribe – and many of you do. Digital subscriptions have grown by 28% in the past year, and we are thankful for that support.
Beginning this week, we are taking another important step in supporting our journalism through subscriptions. Our exclusive reporting, including investigative stories, political commentary, sports analysis and other content found only in the Enquirer will be available to subscribers only. More routine news coverage and matters of public safety, such as severe weather and crime reports, will be available for all visitors to Cincinnati.com until they reach the seven-story monthly limit.
My hope is that you view this as not only a natural and necessary step in our evolution as a business in the digital age, but also as an opportunity to invest in local journalism that makes a difference in our community.
Take for example:
The Enquirer, the largest news organization in Greater Cincinnati, has been delivering award-winning journalism for 178 years. If you currently subscribe, thank you for helping us continue that tradition.
If you aren’t a subscriber, please click here to see our current offers. For a limited time, full digital access is only 99 cents a month for the first three months.
It’s a small investment with big returns.
Beryl Love is executive editor of The Enquirer and the USA TODAY Network-Ohio. Email him at blove @enquirer.com
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