Newspapers: Unlock the vaults to readership and revenue

Go to a lot of online news sites and search the archive, and you’ll soon hit a pay wall. If you want to dig into the history of a city, the richest repository of that information usually wants you to pay for the privilege, with one shining exception – The New York Times – which opened up vast swaths of its archive to free browsing.

For years, the argument that was floated against making news archives free was that newspapers had too much revenue at stake. People would surely pay a few dollars for access to articles they wanted. Once that was put to rest (the numbers, relative to even just the current online revenue at most papers are small), we moved on to another argument: It’s too expensive to store all those articles.

Upon some poking and prodding, though, the expense turned out to be not the archiving of the articles and photos – after all, storage is as close to free as it’s ever been, and getting cheaper every day – but backing them up. The expensive hosting providers many news organizations use for their reliability and speed also charge usurious bandwidth rates for backup. And when you’re backing up years of data every single day, that does, in fact, get expensive.

So why not this: Don’t back it up. Or, just back it up monthly or quarterly. Having a 99.9% chance of an article from 2003 being available is infinitely better than not having it available at all, which is the case now when many newspapers simply throw away old articles after a few weeks.

Anyway, TechDirt (via Journerdism) has an interesting look at what opening up the archives has meant for the New York Times. There’s not a lot of new data here, but the conclusion is still valid: newspaper archives are a readership (and, if you’re doing your job right, revenue) goldmine.

Tim Windsor