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Monday, August 31, 2009

Pay to Play at the P-G

Posted By on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 at 3:47 PM

It's official: As first reported here last week, the Post-Gazette is launching a new members-only online site at midnight tonight. Here's an excerpt from the press release, which I just received. A thought or two of mine below:

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tomorrow will launch PG+, a rich, dynamic members-only Web site that will offer an insider's guide to the current buzz in Pittsburgh.

The highly interactive site will be hosted by a team of bloggers and feature some of the Post-Gazette's best-known personalities, including Ed Bouchette, Doug Oster, Mackenzie Carpenter and Mike White. PG+ will provide an exciting new experience for members, mixing social networking, live chats, videos, blogs and a behind-the-scenes look at the news of the day. Members also will gain exclusive access to special Post-Gazette events and will receive outstanding deals across a wide range of sports, retail and entertainment venues.

...

The annual membership fee for PG+ is $36. Individuals who prefer to pay monthly will be charged $3.99 per month. For a limited time, members who sign up for an annual membership will receive a free copy of Super Six, a book by the Post-Gazette chronicling the Steelers’ most recent Super Bowl victory, a $14.95 value.

My initial thoughts: 

First, no mention of PittGirl? Is the paper just being coy, or did the negotiations not pan out? 

Chris Chamberlain, the paper's president, ain't talking. "I can't really comment on that, or on the hiring of the freelancers the news room is making. We're lining up a stable of people to contribute, and we're definitely reaching out to the local blogging community. But on  [individual names], I can't comment." Chamberlain did note that the site will be "evolving" over time, so if you log on tomorrow and don't see anything by PittGirl, you shouldn't start panicking.

Chamberlain was a bit more forthcoming about some other features the site will offer. These will include stuff like special events and discounts offered to members, more interactive features, live streaming video, etc. One feature, he says, will involve P-G columnists kicking around ideas and hashing out disagreements. Readers will be able to put in their own two cents as well. 

Second, how will this affect the existing print edition and Web site? Chamberlain maintains that "One guiding principle of P-G Plus is we didn't want to take things away" from the existing print and online product. So if you like Chad Hermann's blog, say, or the paper's sports blogs ... those will still be on the near side of the paywall. And Chamberlain says that just because writers like Bouchette (the Steelers beat guy)  are participating in PG Plus, you'll still be seeing their byline in the regular edition.

As a guy who has edited his own audio and video, I'll believe that when I see it. Online stuff can be a real time-suck. But Chamberlain says the P-G has "made an investment in people" to make sure it's sustainable. Existing newsroom staff will be contributing to the new site, but in ways Chamberlain believes can be balanced with their existing obligations.  

Third, this online membership fee is being applied to everyone -- including those who already pay for the print edition. So I'm afraid the P-G just lost a print subscriber: me.

I've been paying for the print edition all these years out of solidarity -- even though I could have been reading it online for free, just like those freeloading bloggers. I like Mac Carpenter as much as anyone, but I'm not going to pay twice to read her. After all, she doesn't have to pay even once to read me -- and that sort of inequality is no basis for a relationship. 

I'm not sure losing print-edition readers is the kind of revenue enhancement the P-G has in mind. But I doubt there's a lot of overlap between print and online readership anyway. So this could be smart business even if it ticks me off.

Chamberlain told me that while "we highly value our paid subscribers," the online membership rate is "a very low monthly fee, and it's complementary to what you get in print."

Chris Chamberlain seems like a nice guy. But he's not the only person around here with a head for business. See ya, print edition. 
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