All the News That's Fit to Hide

How to make the least amount of money possible with newspaper archives: Follow the example of Canada's Sun Media Corporation.

Check out this old article from the Toronto Sun, one of 20,000 archived articles from Sun newspapers that have been crawled by Google.

Nestled inside an ungodly mess of navigation links, ads, and other boilerplate, the 37K page contains less than 100 words of unique content that might attract a web searcher:

Digging into the boys in the band

DOC DIG! FOLLOWS THE EXPLOITS OF TWO '90S PUNK GROUPS

By LIZ BRAUN, TORONTO SUN

IT IS ENTIRELY possible to mistake the documentary Dig! for a mockumentary along the lines of This Is Spinal Tap. The film, which covers seven years in the friendship/rivalry between '90s rockers The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre is so unbelievable at times, so violent, so stupid and so funny -- though not always on purpose -- that you wonder if the whole thing is a spoof.

If that entices you to keep reading, the Sun will provide the rest of the article by e-mail, fax or postal mail for $10. Just e-mail your credit card number and expiration date -- and be sure to provide your name, address, and phone number, so you're maximizing the risk of identity theft as much as possible.

This page could be viewed a million times and might not rate a single $10 order. But it will rarely if ever be seen at all, because no one's going to link to an article stub, pushing it deep into the recesses of Google search results.

Making matters worse, the reprint pitch makes it sound like human staffers are collecting and sending these reprints, a practice so antiquated that one wonders if they still prepare their papers with hot type, running stories by foot between editors amid cries of "copy boy!"

If this web page contained the full story at no cost, paired with context-based text ads, there are three benefits: it has a much better chance of being linked, a reader is turning to The Sun for information, and a million pageviews could conservatively rake in $700.

That last number is based on my experience serving 13 million pages alongside text ads in two years. I don't know how representative my results are, but if a half-assed, one-person, hobbyist can earn 7 cents per 100 views, I'm guessing the publisher of 19 Canadian newspapers could do better.

If Sun Media publishes 500 articles a day, freeing the last five years of its archives would put 1 million stories on the web. The potential for revenue on text ads alone is huge, and the company already uses archive pages to tout banner ads, EBay Canada auctions, and its other sites.

But missed ad revenue may prove to be the lesser concern for the company. Newspapers like the Sun are pushing themselves deeper into irrelevance with each story they lock into for-pay archives. As Adam Penenberg writes in Wired, when a newspaper such as the Wall Street Journal doesn't freely publish archives, the audience of younger, web-connected news junkies looks elsewhere:

Since most people refuse to pay for WSJ stories, most bloggers are reluctant to link to them. It also has an impact on anyone who uses the web for research -- and there are a lot of us. As importantly, the next generation of readers is growing up by accessing news over the internet, and one place they are not surfing to is WSJ.com. With their habits being formed now, there is little chance the Journal will become part of their lives, either now or in the future.

I'm a 37-year-old journalism school graduate, former reporter, and an every-day newspaper reader since age 10. The Journal has incredible journalists -- perhaps the best I've ever read -- but this was news to me until my sister-in-law recently bought us a gift subscription.

As a person who primarily reads papers online, I've been judging the Journal by the one section that offers free articles and attracts weblog links -- the Goldwater was too liberal, I want to cradle Reagan's foot editorial page.

Newspapers have to survive in the 21st century, because without them we'll be facing the Hobson's choice of getting our news from television or being uninformed.

But if they still haven't figured out the web, 168 Internet years after the first graphical browser, how long will it take for the news to reach them?

Comments

You missed a great lecture at the Berkeley J-School, which will soon be available in video archive. It was given by Rob Curley of the Lawrence Journal-World, and called "Let's Quit Building Crappy Newspaper Sites".

He gave a really engaging presentation. His paper is really utilizing the web to supplement the paper's reporting.

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