About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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« The Social Subscription | Main | Why TBD is Important »

July 12, 2010


Tish Grier

I wonder how much Journalism Online charged them for this service. They might have been able to set up something like this thru Copyright Clearance Center for free. CCC does a lot with papers like the NYTimes for creating revenue from reprints, etc.

I also doubt that there's an online frequent-obit reader audience. Esp. for local. Most of those folks are still reading the newspaper daily, and cutting out the important ones.


Brauer has a similar take:


But it may be that the Lancaster test is more about proving the (flexible) techology and the customer-service components of Press+, not a test of any particular model.


I wonder how much of their traffic is coming from bots or scrapers who are trying to aggregate the obit content for sites like Topix, Fwix and the many, many splogs that want to grab the content. Not likely they'll pay for access.

Tim Windsor

Step one: Decide to test the system. Fair enough.

Step two: Test the system in a way that won't directly impact local users. Done.

Step three: Make wild revenue projections associated with the test. Neglect to anticipate how much of out-of-market repeat traffic is from aggregators as Colin notes. Done and done.

If - IF! - they get 5% of those 17,692 out-of-market frequent obit-readers to convert (and that would be a wildly successful percentage), and if each and every one of them goes for the full-year subscription, this will be worth a little under $18,000.

That's real revenue, of course, and maybe if they carve off another ten or twenty slices like it, they could start considering this a success, but Mark's right that they're fever-dreaming if they think they're anywhere in the vicinity of six-figures with this scheme.



I am a local news web publisher. Our web-only local news site is 11 years old, one of the oldest around.

I can tell you from experience that traffic to obituaries and police logs forms the backbone of a local news website.

That said, they'll never get people to cough up 20 bucks a year just to see the dead.

Most funeral homes publish their own obits on their websites (if they have one) and other news sites aggregate obits as well.

If they want to get people to pay for content, they've picked exactly the wrong stuff. Obits are commodity content. What is it that the paper does that has high value and can't be found anywhere else? That's where to start, if you're going to go down that road.

Dave Bullard


Aside from the conceptual stupidity and insanely optimistic projections, let's look at the implementation:
- annoying interstitial upsell for press+ the first time you click on an obit
- interstitial the fifth time you click on an obit
- use another browser or go in to porn mode on your browser and the counter resets -- unlimited reading

Matt Wedgwood

People are never going to pay for internet news. Its just not going to happen.


Excellent insight, as usual, Mark. You inspired me to blog on the insanity of this "double dip on death." http://bit.ly/cB1TTO


+1 with what Dbullard says. Ours is the Web site of a medium-sized daily and obits, blotter items and the local university sports coverage are the backbone of our site (not necessarily in that order). That LancasterOnline idn't NYT or WaPo is *precisely* the point.

While our site gets its share of Web crawlers, we could post that the BP well was spouting bubble gum and there'd be nary a ripple, but if a day's worth of obits doesn't get posted, we hear about it.

Having said all that, it doesn't mean the LancasterOnline projections are any more on target, but I don't think that for a community paper, starting with obits is that crazy.

Adam McKay

This seems too much for a local community paper to project. To base it on Google Analytics is dangerous and irresponsible. I think they seriously need to hire Dave Bullard as a consultant and get their numbers straight.

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