The Billings Outpost

Free online makes sense

I enjoyed reading your editorial on the online-subscription attempts by the Gazette [Outpost, July 10]. Your take on it was both informative and well stated. Online income certainly exists. But whether that income is small as a butterfly or big as a Boeing, it must continually be chased. It’s always instant in both its growth and in its vanishing. So-called giants of online industries know this and spend a lot of their would-be profits on technological running shoes, trying to stay fast enough on their feet to survive.

Most people are willing to pay for what they think they need and want. They’re reluctant to pay for what they can get free by clicking somewhere else. So long as news and whatever passes for news is offered without cost on the Internet, few newspaper readers will be want to pay for it. Regional news may not be easy to find online, but it can be found, because people on social networks love to inform the world of everything they think they know.

Local news publications in print accomplish what the Internet doesn’t. They more effectively package local information and get it back into the community and even into the home. There it remains in a passive state until someone reaches out for it. But it’s there, waiting. The Internet, that world-wide wonder, fails to do this. On the Internet people tend to search for and “consume” only what interests them. Internet users end up viewing, hearing and reading a lot about whatever they’re looking for at the time, and very little about what’s going on in the local neighborhood.

Social media giants know this already, and some are trying to act on it. So far, though, local newspapers still have the edge. Skilled reporting on real events, and developments meaningful to the local community makes the newspaper much more effective as a local information source. Many newspapers need to communicate this fact more effectively.

When a newspaper’s ink-on-paper edition is combined with a free online edition, then both the readers and advertisers benefit. Readers have more options for access to reliable local information, and advertisers gain a wider exposure to their own message. By restricting online access in any way, a newspaper chokes its own potential for continued growth by removing a potentially unlimited reach for advertisers. For an advertiser, a smaller reach means fewer results, which creates a greater reluctance to continue paying for  the same advertising source.

The wonder of the Internet for any enterprise is opportunity. Used effectively, it becomes a fine tool for communication, an added arm for any local newspaper, a vast archival library for past articles, while offering unlimited potential for expanding the range and content of every new edition. It offers every newspaper the opportunity to become as great as its contributors choose to make it.

Jim Sutton

Billings

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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