Bloomington, Indiana is a college town with a population of about 70,000. The Bloomington Herald Times is local daily and its mobile web site, htonl.mobi is unusual in that it’s one of the few mobile newspaper sites I’ve seen that has a paywall. Like the Herald Times’ full site, the mobile one requires a $5.95/month subscription to view all the content. There is some free content on the site including the weather forecast, classifieds, events calendar, movie show times, wining lottery numbers but just one free news story.
I don’t know if the Herald Times’ paywall is new or not but it seems to be a sign of the times. The newspaper business is in big trouble thanks to the one-two punch of declining readership due to web competition combined with the recession driving down ad spend. The Hearst Corporation, which owns 55 newspapers recently announced plans for a paywall on both their full and mobile web sites.
While I hope newspapers find a way to survive, I doubt that charging for online news will actually help the bottom line of any newspaper, especially in a smaller college town like Bloomington. It didn’t work for the New York Times which dropped its paywall 18 m0nths ago and has since seen its traffic and online advertising revenue soar.
We are accustomed to web content being free and in this age of instant communication news is never truly exclusive. If one site starts charging there are dozens to choose from that don’t. Personally I think the answer is for newspapers to make their web and especially their mobile web sites deeper, more compelling and more interactive and then monetize them aggressively with ads (htonl.mobi currently carries no advertising at all). Source: Mobility.mobi
Ratings: Content Usability
Ready.mobi Score: 4 “Good”
Mobile Link: htonl.mobi