MediaNews to Build the Great Paywall of Chico

If you want to read the Chico Enterprise-Record online, you may have to pay

By Jackson West
|  Tuesday, Nov 3, 2009  |  Updated 4:00 PM PDT
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MediaNews to Build the Great Paywall of Chico

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MediaNews CEO William Dean Singleton in a rare moment of gloat over the Rocky Mountain News going out of business, but could his own papers be next?

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After announcing the plan to charge readers for access to Web sites in May, the first subscription paywalls put up by the MediaNews Group will be erected in Chico, Calif. and York, Pa.

MediaNews owns a number of Bay Area news operations, including the San Jose Mercury News and the Oakland Tribune, so the plan could be coming to your hometown digital daily sooner rather than later.

Though, in truth, it's been here before -- from 1995 to 1998, the Mercury News actually did charge subscriptions for online access. And guess what happened? Online readership dropped by 90 percent.

A similar fate befell columnists at the New York Times when that company decided to introduce the TimesSelect "feature" to charge for the ramblings of Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman.

Of course, now those who actually do sign up for a subscription will be bloggers more than happy to regurgitate the salient points from the stories on their own, free sites.

One idea? Stop subsidizing existing print subscribers by actually charging them what it costs to print and deliver a newspaper. Oh, but then they'd go read it for free online, you say?

Yeah, newspapers are screwed.

Jackson West figures this is at least mildly better an idea than assuming more video will solve anything.

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