After a series of discussions over the past 18 months with the Missouri Students Association, the Columbia Missourian has decided to keep their paywall, but the burden of paying out of pocket for articles that are over 24 hours old will be moved from readers to Google.
Technically, the news still isn’t free; but it will be for readers, as per the Missourian’s new pay model.
Readers will have the option of either signing in if they are a Missourian member (which is $5.95 per month to view all online content at any time), or completing a short, one-or two-question anonymous survey in order to view an article over 24 hours old, for free. Google will receive 10 cents from market research firms for every completed survey. The Missourian will receive a nickel of that expenditure.
“We think (the new program) will increase our website traffic as we go along, especially (after) talking to other newspapers that use this model,” Missourian General Manager Dan Potter said. “And we think more people will be able to access our content, by not having to pay for it.”
Potter and Marketing Manager Bryan Chester began exploring other options after MSA voiced their concerns.
Historically, MSA, particularly former MSA president Nick Droege, had been very adamant for having the Missourian remove any form of paywall on its website. Droege’s argument was that having a paywall for a newspaper funded by a university that students pay to attend was unfair.
After Droege left office, Potter continued dialogue with MSA through former Director of Student Communications, Gunnar Johanson.
“We heard from (Potter) all throughout the semester,” Johanson said. “He was always checking in. During the last week we were in school, (Potter) approached us about the … pay model they just released, and that they were going to pursue it.”
The Missourian’s old pay model is not even two years old. Potter said the Missourian’s website had lost traffic from non-members and the revenue for digital content couldn’t cover the paper’s deficits anymore.
“The Missourian is an agency of the university; we have to operate like any other business and do everything we can do to bring in revenue,” he said. “You can’t just continue to post everything to do for free without earning something on that, because a lot of expense goes into generating stories and editing and copy. It gives us a way to get some money, but it also solves the problem, we think, for students on campus.”
He added that it was important the complaints and comments from MSA this year and last year be taken into account regarding the way the Missourian operates for students.
When Chester presented this new model a few months into the spring semester of 2014, the Missourian immediately contacted Google.
“The idea to use Google Consumer Surveys … to supplement our membership model came about in part as a response to MSA’s request that we find a way to provide free access to MU students,” Chester wrote in an email. “While we knew that we could not continue to give our core product away for free, we were very sensitive to the effect our model had on the MU student body, specifically Missourian student writers and staff.”
Potter met with Johanson and Director of Student Life Mark Lucas with the Missourian’s idea after spring semester. Johanson said he and Lucas were very receptive to it.
Potter said he, Chester and a handful of members from the Missourian marketing staff contacted newspapers such as the Albuquerque Journal and the Clovis News Journal, who already use a method similar to their idea.
“I stumbled across GCS and presented the idea to (Potter) as a potential alternative to the 24-hour time meter,” Chester wrote. “(Potter) requested that myself, along with a member of my marketing team, Tim McCarty, further research GCS as well as speak with newspapers that were currently implementing various forms of GCS.”
He said the new program will be added to the website once Google is finished with coding. The actual date it will be released is still tentative, but soon.
“After talking to other newspapers around the country that are doing this, and talking to Google, I am very confident that it will work,” Potter said. “Is there a possibility that it won’t? Sure, there always is with anything new like this. We’re really anxious to see how it operates.”