Media General has put up a paywall in front of Daily Progress website content. The media conglomerate entered into a relationship with Journalism Online earlier this year, the company that has developed the “Press+” platform. It limits readers to reading ten “premium” articles each month (no word on what constitutes “premium”) before they have to buy an online subscription, which runs $7/month.
I was an early alpha tester for the then-unnamed Press+ a couple of years ago, when I worked for a magazine, but after reviewing the meager and misguided technical documentation for their product, decided Press+ was much too crude to work. Simply blocking the URL http://s.ppjol.net/pp.js in a program like Ad Block Plus, or running a browser in “private” or “incognito” mode when visiting an Press+ affiliate, are enough to prevent it from working entirely. The whole article is sent to the browser along with the payment requirement—a bit of code is simply used to display a little box above it; suppress the box, which is easily done, and you can read the article.
It’s also based on a model of charging a monthly fee per media outlet, which isn’t how many people read news now—in the Google News era, we sample our news from a great many sources, and are reluctant to commit financially to a media outlet like that. Instead, media outlets need to be charging micropayments on a per-read basis, anywhere from 1–25¢ per article, for which we’d all have a single monthly charge on our credit card. But to work, those need to be aggregated across dozens or hundreds of media outlets, and only an existing online retailer with a huge file of credit card numbers could make that work, which really means Amazon or Apple. (Google is trying this with One Pass, but they just don’t have an existing financial relationship with enough people.) Until that happens, companies like Media General are stuck with solutions like Press+, which a lot of industry experts are dubious will pay off. Media outlets eager to find new sources of revenue to replace sagging print subscription income are understandably flirting with the Press+ model, because what other options do they have?
This obviously leaves me in an awkward position for linking to news from here, since I’d routinely be sending people to articles they may well not be able to read. Luckily, a few alternatives are available. The first is to link to original stories on Charlottesville Tomorrow, which not infrequently is the ultimate source of the sort of Progress stories I tend to write about here. The second is to link to coverage on NBC-29 and CBS-19, which frequently gets their daily headlines from the Progress. While that’s really not fair to the Progress reporters, that does have the benefit of being a useful link. And the third alternative is to summarize stories in more detail, so that folks who cannot click through can still get the gist of the article. This is, again, not really fair to reporters. I’m open to suggestions here!