The Sacramento Bee has chickened out on its experiment in specialized subscription services, announcing that its 10-month-old Capitol Alert California politics site will now be free, and ad-supported.
Score another for the pro-free content crowd. But as I wrote when it was launched, Capitol Alert was flawed from the jump: The Bee priced it at $499 a year, and promoted it as a consumer product--for which it was vastly overpriced. I wonder how many subscriptions they actually sold at that price? Damn few, I'll bet. I don't understand why it wasn't more explicitly marketed as a professional product, aimed at lobbyists and others who needed the latest news on the chattering classes in the Sacramento statehouse. Think: newsletters, which long have commanded premium prices for specialty information. And Capitol Alert seemed to be a fairly meaty product, something that political pros would be glad to pay for.
So why move Capitol Alert straight to free? It's fascinating that the Bee didn't try another price point. Would there have been subscribers at $99? $49? We'll never know. Maybe they did some research and decided that nobody would pay for it, regardless of the price. But I find that hard to believe. Capitol Alert was a valiant experiment in an industry that doesn't do nearly enough experimentation. Too bad the Bee didn't try to make it work as a subscription product.