August 20, 2013

What is the Dallas Morning News worth as a brand?

We'll soon find out, I guess.

D Magazine reports that the Snooze will abandon its online paywall in September and instead put up a premium website.

(Update, Sept. 30: The Snooze has announced details of the premium website. Here's my take on what sounds even stupider than I thought when I first wrote this post.)

The San Francisco Chronicle, after dumping its current paywall, may do the same. 

But, what's a premium website going to sell?

Let's take the Snooze as an example.

Will we get more "who's being seen" pictures and write-ups of snooty parties in Highland Park or Preston Hollow? Who's sitting with Jerry Jones in a luxury suite in AT&T Bubbaville in Arlington?

That's fine, if that's what the Snooze wants to do. I'm waiting on other details. But Dallas as a news "commodity" source doesn't really have a lot of "premium" content besides snooty people in Highland Park and the Cowboys. (Well, OK, you have JFK assassination and 50th anniversary coverage, too. But that's it.)

It's not like the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times, even, or the Economist, where by their nature a fair amount of the news can be treated as a premium. Or, if the Washington Post did it right, national politics coverage as a "premium" might still sell, even in today's post-Politico world.

Also, depending on the exact nature of what content is in a premium section, and if it gets to be too puffery, a premium site like the Snooze's might raise ethics issues.

And, on Cowboys issues, it would be tough for the Snooze to make people pay for premium coverage, given how many people the paper has cut from its sports section staff in the past several years. Heck, it was their availability that was part of what led ESPN to create a separate sub-site for Dallas sports.

Anyway, I am curious to find out more, so as to make more of a judgment. But, I'm betting that the Snooze will eventually find this is a step backward.

Or, the only way it becomes a step forward is if it does separate premium sites at all Belo papers, then, along the lines of splitting broadcast and newspapers last year, next splits premium and non-premium versions of its newspapers.

That said, with me having lived in Dallas in the past, I have no problem if the Snooze wants to give away normal Metroplex news for free again. Or if the Observer, the local alt-weekly, wants to continue giving away its take on local news. 

The whole "branded premium content" idea seems to me to be yet another one of those newspaer-Internet ideas that's about ... oh, five years too late. If not more? Exhibit A: The San Francisco Chronicle, which was actually running a badly-managed version of a premium website. Even a well-managed one, what will that do? I mean, the tech world is really as much the beat of the San Jose Mercury News, if not more so. And McClatchey halfway bungled the opportunity to make that a "premium" several years ago, though not totaly.

See, a Jeff Bezos can pull this off at the Washington Post, and not necessarily trying to make a "new" post old enough to end-run Politico. He can do it with Amazon swag and other things. But I just don't see the traditional metropolitan daily having that much premium content to offer.

Big hair and Cowboys. (Plus JFK getting whacked.) Well, for better or worse, the Snooze is at least one up on the Houston Chronicle.

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