Succinct wisdom from Peter Feld about the proposition that putting out news free on the web cannibalises one’s print edition:
The flaw in the print person’s perspective is in thinking that there is any relation between your print audience and your web audience. There is none. You are not undercutting your print product by publishing a website because the people who you can reach online have almost no overlap with the people who you reach in print. Your print readers don’t want your website, and your web audience doesn’t. want. your. paper. (or magazine). (There’s a small overlap for whom that’s not true — many of whom are the mediavores who read articles like this one.) Audiences are more stratified by media habits than they are united by common interests.
So, you will not send people back to your paper by eliminating your website (though you’ll save the cost of operating a website — maybe that’s the real consideration) — you’ll send them to other websites. And if you do maintain a website with a prohibitively high paywall, to try to send people to print, you have the worst of both worlds: a website that costs money to maintain, and no audience or revenue.
The real error of print people is thinking that cost is a factor driving people from print to the web — as though people go to the web to save the price of a newspaper or magazine. Wrong. They go to your website because the web is where they hang out, and because they are hoping to find something that would be fresher than they could in a paper printed last night and filled with yesterday’s news.