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.

4 thoughts on “Newspapers: Unlock the vaults to readership and revenue

  1. mark van patten

    Hi, thanks for your comment at MediaShift.com

    The newspaper group at Linkedin.com has a thread on newspaper firewalls.http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=99188 and I address paid archives.

    We had a firewall for everybody (free for 14 days) but now only charge non-subscribers. Our royalties have hardly budged.

    We're involved with the Google Newspaper Archives and I can't wait until they get this up and running. I think we will make more from AdSense because of the higher traffic volume from searchers.

  2. Gus

    I've been babbling to anyone who will listen about opening up our archives for free for about three years in our newsroom. And I too was told about the expense of such an approach. I think I even submitted this as one of my ideas to Sam Zell's IdeaBank whenever that launched many months ago. Anyway, I like your solution. I hope someone listens to it.

    The millions of pages of archival content that we keep locked behind a wall has the potential to have a HUGE footprint on Google and elsewhere on the Web. I have little doubt in my mind that newspapers would be rewarded with huge jumps in their web traffic, both from readers who find them via search and by those who find them because bloggers were able to freely link to an old article.

  3. Gus

    I've been babbling to anyone who will listen about opening up our archives for free for about three years in our newsroom. And I too was told about the expense of such an approach. I think I even submitted this as one of my ideas to Sam Zell's IdeaBank whenever that launched many months ago. Anyway, I like your solution. I hope someone listens to it.

    The millions of pages of archival content that we keep locked behind a wall has the potential to have a HUGE footprint on Google and elsewhere on the Web. I have little doubt in my mind that newspapers would be rewarded with huge jumps in their web traffic, both from readers who find them via search and by those who find them because bloggers were able to freely link to an old article.

  4. Gus

    I've been babbling to anyone who will listen about opening up our archives for free for about three years in our newsroom. And I too was told about the expense of such an approach. I think I even submitted this as one of my ideas to Sam Zell's IdeaBank whenever that launched many months ago. Anyway, I like your solution. I hope someone listens to it.

    The millions of pages of archival content that we keep locked behind a wall has the potential to have a HUGE footprint on Google and elsewhere on the Web. I have little doubt in my mind that newspapers would be rewarded with huge jumps in their web traffic, both from readers who find them via search and by those who find them because bloggers were able to freely link to an old article.

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