When reporting on the current paywall frenzy within the newspaper industry, the media's eye is mostly set on developments at major newspapers, most obvious example being The New York Times. What is often missing is the point of view of smaller newspapers.
Now, there is new information on how effectively such papers are adopting models for paid online content. Nieman Journalism Lab reported on a survey that had a sample of almost 1,400 small or mid-size (77 percent had circulation under 25,000) daily US newspapers.
Perhaps surprisingly, smaller papers have been very active in starting to charge for online access: 46 percent of newspapers with circulation under 25,000 said that they are already doing so. Of papers with a circulation over 25,000, only 24 percent said the same.
It seems that for most of the small newspapers, paywall is the way of the future: of papers that don't charge for content, only 15 percent said that they have no future plans for a pay model.
What do the pageview numbers look like for smaller newspapers? Interestingly, the effect of paywall seems to be relatively subtle. The Columbia Daily Tribune began charging for online access in December. Its monthly pageviews are now at around 3 million, whereas before paywall the number of visitors was between 4 and 5 millions.
At The Augusta Chronicle, the pageviews actually went up after the paper introduced a paid-for model. The paper originally offered 100 free stories, giving its readers a chance to get used to the new system. Currently, visitors can read up to 20 stories for free.
These kinds of numbers are striking when compared with how paywalls are affecting major newspapers. The latest news, reported by AdAge, is from The New York Times, whose page views declined 24,4 percent from March, which is when the paper launched its paywall, to April. Other major news sites have seen similar developments: pageviews at Yahoo News and MSNBC declined 23,9 and 21,4 percent, respectively.
Nieman Journalism Lab pointed out that whereas newspapers such as The New York Times draw a lot of national and international attention, smaller papers rely on a more local audience. This could be the reason why a majority of publishers of small newspapers said a paywall would reduce pageviews by only 20 percent, if at all. The article also mentioned that the fact that many small newspapers are owned by families, which allows for flexibility, could also partly explain their ability to respond to changes quickly and successfully.