Who’s Gonna Pay For Glenn Guilbeau’s Articles?

If you’re a resident of one of five mid-sized Louisiana markets – Shreveport, Lafayette, Monroe, Alexandria and Opelousas – you’re probably aware that your local paper is owned by Gannett Newspapers.

So far, that matters to you largely because the local paper makes you dependent on Glenn Guilbeau’s coverage of LSU sports and Mike Hasten’s coverage of the state capitol. Those guys cover their respective beats for all five of those newspapers – so if Guilbeau decides to feed LSU fans a steady diet of “Les Miles sucks and Nick Saban is God,” or Hasten wants to take the position that “Bobby Jindal is trying to destroy public education in Louisiana” (the former being pretty much the way things are, and the latter being more of a generalized example), then that’s all Gannett has to offer you.

But by the end of the year, Gannett demands that you pay for the privilege of digesting that porridge if your daily reading habits are of the online variety…

Online readers will be able view between five and 15 articles per month, depending on the newspaper, according to Bob Dickey, president of the McLean, Va.-based company’s community newspaper division.

Dickey said the initiative, similar to the New York Times pay model, will add $100 million in revenue to the publishing business by 2013.

There are websites out there which track your visits and then throw a popup at you when you get close to the limit of their generosity. It’s not the worst thing in the world.

The problem is that nobody I’ve talked to has a positive opinion of any of Gannett’s Louisiana newspapers. LSU fans more or less unanimously hate Guilbeau, for example – and that’s when 99 percent of the people who read his stuff don’t have to pay for it.

And if you go to the front page of any Gannett Louisiana newspaper’s site, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something even remotely interesting to read.

Here’s today’s Monroe News-Star, for example…

See anything you care about? This is actually a GOOD day at the News-Star.

Of course, the newspaper business is going down the tubes at an accelerating pace, happy horse hockey they’re feeding their stockholders notwithstanding. Attempting to get people to pay for an online subscription so they can read about sheriff’s deputies filing lawsuits or motel openings on the highway isn’t a particularly promising business strategy.

But over here, we’re not complaining. That knocking sound is splitting our eardrums, and it’s a bit irritating, but we can survive that.

Here are some numbers from Compete.com on online traffic among the state’s larger newspapers, shown in graphical form. We’ll start with the paper which is actually doing well – the New Orleans Times-Picayune…

And here’s what the Baton Rouge Advocate did in January online…

 

As a bit of explanation, prior to July 2011 the Advocate and WBRZ-TV, which is Channel 2 in Baton Rouge and is owned by the Manship family just like the newspaper is, occupied a combined website at 2theadvocate.com. They split off into two sites that month.

The next biggest newspaper in the state is actually owned by Gannett. Here’s the Shreveport Times…

 

Gannett’s next best-performing Louisiana paper is the Alexandria Town Talk…

And here’s the Lafayette Advertiser, also owned by Gannett…

The New York Times just sold the Houma Courier to a smaller newspaper group out of Florida. If online traffic is any indication of how it’s performing, there’s a reason why…

And here’s what the aforementioned Monroe News-Star did in January…

And the fifth Gannett Louisiana paper is the Opelousas Daily World…

For the month of January, the five Gannett Louisiana papers did, by Compete.com’s estimation, 488,736 unique visitors.

Is that a good number? If I was in charge of Gannett Louisiana, I wouldn’t be particularly happy with it. It’s just 37.5 percent of the Times-Picayune’s web traffic. And the Lafayette, Alexandria, Shreveport, Monroe and Opelousas markets combined have a considerably larger population than the New Orleans market does – so just on base local readership it’s clear those papers aren’t capturing an audience like they could be.

And then there’s this…

When you’re a national newspaper chain and you have five papers totally dominating Louisiana markets with a combined population of over 1.5 million people, you really shouldn’t be generating 87 percent of the traffic a two-year old political group blog with three employees does.

And that traffic is not going to increase when you start asking people to pay for the privilege of reading about motels opening on the highway or karate teams who go to Texas and get trophies. Not unless you can find a way to generate content that’s a LOT more compelling than you’re currently doing.

Let’s face it. Glenn Guilbeau ain’t gonna cut it.

And if this is the case in Louisiana it’s not a terrible bet that the rest of the country – or at least much of it – won’t be too much different.

If you’ve got stock in Gannett, now might be a good time to let it go.

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