Free or Not Free?
by Tim Stelloh, March 22, 2010
We got a message from an angry fan on our Facebook page a month or so back about our biz model here at TheAVA.com. He challenged us to a debate, which we happily accepted. But our everything-should-be-free-on-the-net-challenger never showed up for the fight. I've posted our argument below, along with the comments we have received; maybe our readers here will have more to say.
Annoyed that we posted a story on our Facebook page that wasn't free, AVA.com fan John Cost suggested we debate the following question:
Was it a good idea for newspapers to give stories away on the Internet?
We at TheAVA.com say no.
Let me repeat that: We at theAVA.com say NO. It was a very bad idea--unless you think massively undercutting your product is sound business strategy.
That said, what's done is done. We have no idea if--and how--major US newspapers can save themselves. But there are lots of people trying to figure that out. Mendocino County is not Washington DC, however. Nor is it New York City or Los Angeles, where there's lots of competing media, and you can always get your information from someone else. Which is why we've decided to design our website the way we've designed it: No one else in Mendocino County does what the AVA does. If you want to read us on the net, you should do the same thing you do when you read us in print: you should pay. (Though readers should note that much of the site is free--and the majority of the stories we post to Facebook are free.)
As much as readers might not like it, or as much as they might think everything on the Internet should be free, good, in-depth journalism costs money to produce. We hope websites like ours will begin to change people's minds about that and, as we said before, we hope we can depend on our readers to support the work we do.
Reader Aaron Mitchell submitted the following:
Being only in my early 30's I wonder how people have forgotten so quickly about the basic principles of commerce. Someone offers a product and someone else pays for it. This internet 'free' concept that someone offers a product which is paid for by 'click through ads' and then you enjoy the product gratis is laughable.
I will tell you a story from personal experience - I used to live in The City and had a fairy tale commute involving classic eateries, cable cars and the Chronicle. Then came the advent of the interwebs and sfgate.com which I began to frequent with more and more regularity to the point where I would only buy the Chron on 'nostalgia days' just to feel the crinkle of a newspaper under my arm. Well apparently I was not the only one as the Chronicle is now a shadow of it's former self intellectually and is barely surviving on financial life support.
Bringing us back to MendoLand - I thoroughly enjoy the dozen or so pages of 'guerrilla journalism' and worry that should the content be made available completely for free (aside from some dodgy click ads) that this would signal the beginning of the end for the honest, robust local insights that we find in today's AVA.
There you go - my two cents - free of charge!
And this, from Andy Caffrey:
I think $25 for a year of the AVA is a deal. There are now about four or five online news sources that I support this way, and the AVA is by far the least expensive and best deal of the bunch!
What do you think?