Further thoughts on the Tampa Bay Times decision to implement a paywall

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The Tampa Bay Times will install a paywall on TampaBay.com, charging readers who consume more than 15 pages per month,Times Chairman Paul Tash announced last week.

My first post criticizing this decision — for a variety of reasons — is here, so I’ll do my best not to repeat myself. Instead, I’d like to think of the path not taken.

I wonder (and I really am doing just that, wondering, because I do not have access to the Times’ financials) if the Times could have done something special and declared that it would not, at least not through 2014, erect a paywall between its content and its readers. Concurrently, it could raise advertising prices to reflect the unique strategic position the newspaper enjoys to better reflect the value it believes it holds, thereby breaking with the current per-click, per-view online advertising model chocking the life out of traditional media companies. 

Seriously, wouldn’t that have been special? Wouldn’t that have better fit in with the Nelson Poynter-inspired fairy tale surrounding the Times?

The Times, in my estimation, is playing with fire by erecting a paywall. Few other smaller, regional newspaper enjoy the out-of-market readership and reputation that the Times does. Part of its cache is that smart readers in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Tallahassee, etc., visit TampaBay.com for the newspaper’s award-winning journalism. That’s not the case for the Jacksonville Times-Union or the Orlando Sentinel. 

I’m just not convinced that these out-of-market readers will pay $120 a year to read the Times online.

This concern should be especially worrisome to the Times as it relates to maintaining the reach of its political coverage.

The Times prides itself on being the paper of record for Florida’s governmental and political news. This reputation could be in jeopardy if hundreds of staffers and mid-level politicos blink at climbing the Times‘ paywall. 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.